Politics is hard, so The Baffler has employed expert comic mind David Rees to give us a visual rendering of the day’s signature political controversies. The only problem is that David can’t draw, so his cartoons are word pictures—which is to say, words.
American political cartoons, like political jokes told by men in suits on late-night television, are most rewarding when multiple current events and cultural references are jammed inside a single container. An expert satirist can combine a political story with one from the entertainment world to produce a synthesis of delight that illuminates both sources.
Here’s a recent example from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: “I hate to break it to Donald Trump, but there is already a Broadway show called Hairspray.”
Any such combination of political insight and cultural citation is a guaranteed winner.
I’m going to describe a political cartoon I would draw if I had the ability. While reading the description, pay attention to the savvy commingling of political and cultural references. This will help you achieve maximum pleasure.
Hillary Clinton is at the airport with her roller bag and her neck pillow. In the distance, we see a boarding gate with the destination: WHITE HOUSE. There’s a big airplane on the jetway labeled “THE GENERAL ELECTION.”
Donald Trump is already standing at the gate, holding a first-class ticket, waiting to board. Standing beside him is “Chewbacca Mom,” the lady who put on the Chewbacca mask in a recent viral web video. (I’ll be honest: I haven’t figured out how to incorporate Chewbacca Mom into this cartoon—but I know she’s on everyone’s mind, so for now I’ll just leave her standing beside Trump and hope that readers will be so happy to see her that they won’t resent my shameless appropriation of her popularity.)
Back to Clinton: I’d draw her gazing longingly at that outbound flight for the White House. Unfortunately for her, she’s stuck at the end of a long line of passengers awaiting TSA screening, and might not make it to her gate on time. You see, I’m commenting on Clinton’s delayed coronation and the recent TSA scandals, using a single image. I am a world-class political cartoonist.
All the people in the TSA line are Bernie Sanders supporters. We know this because they’re complaining about every step of the screening process: It’s undemocratic, it’s rigged. It’s like they’ve never been to an airport before. I’d draw them so they somehow looked world-wearily bitter and cluelessly naive, intellectual and stupid—all at the same time, per media reports about them. They would also be drawn as birds. Angry Birds, to be precise, since that’s the #1 movie in the country, and “bird” sounds kind of like “Bern.” You can’t deny such cultural kismet, and I’m sure someone (if we’re lucky, Maureen Dowd!) is already writing an essay about our “Angry Birds election.” Some of the Bernie-birds are refusing to take off their shoes; others won’t remove their laptops from their carry-on bags. Word balloons float above their heads: “We need to change the system!” and “Let’s have a revolution!”
Clinton clearly wasn’t expecting this logjam. She arrived at the airport with her shoes off, and she took her laptop computer out of her carry-on bag eight years ago. (Speaking of that laptop: A Republican passerby, on his way to catch a nonstop flight to the American Heartland, is glaring at Clinton’s laptop. A thought balloon above his head shows the equation: Laptop + Secret Emails + Benghazi = Vince Foster murder! This Republican is being pursued by coastal newspaper columnists [all, of course, generically labeled as such] eager to talk to a Trump voter so they can understand Where It All Went Wrong and Why Angry Working-Class Voters Didn’t Heed My Call for a Sensible Republican Candidate Who Could Further the Dialectic of Our Great Republic As Outlined in the Works of Aristotle.)
Anyway, Clinton is stuck in the back of this long, serpentine line of obstinate Sanders yahoos who apparently want to burn down the airport and fly everywhere on homemade airplanes, while Trump installs chandeliers on Air Force One made from the frozen tears of deported Mexican schoolchildren. I represent her frustration by drawing a thought bubble above her sweating brow: “Damn, Daniel!”
In the lower corner of the cartoon, Jimmy Fallon, holding a xylophone, winks at the reader and says, “And I thought the line for Hamilton tickets was long!”