There was a moment, late Monday night, as I read about Melania Trump’s convention speech—the passages lifted from Michelle Obama, the Rickroll some wily programmer pasted into her source code—when I wondered if I was dreaming. The catastrophe seemed too elegant to be happening outside my own head. The poetry of her unwitting epic fail felt too sweet for this world. For the first time in my life, I pitied a Trump.
Then I remembered the selfish, leering emptiness at the center of everything they do, and shuddered at my moment of empathy.
Here is a cartoon about that strange moment:
A beautiful cyborg with deathless eyes addresses a crowd of scared white people crammed into a windowless echo chamber lined with misremembered Norman Rockwell paintings and bogus crime statistics sourced from white supremacists. The crowd isn’t afraid of the cyborg, even though she speaks with an intimidating accent that turns “fairness” into “fearness.” (Which, incidentally, is the perfect phonetic summation of today’s Republican party). Instead, the crowd is afraid of everyone and everything lurking outside their echo chamber (represented in this cartoon by Chinese people wearing sombreros and shouting “We love Sharia law!” while cashing welfare checks and shooting police officers).
First a cyborg, then the scion, whose face looks like it was designed by God to have drinks thrown in it.
The cyborg is labeled “Melania Trump.” The crowd isn’t labeled, but you know they are Trump supporters because many of them are holding TRUMP signs and wearing TRUMP hats. Their eyes are as wide as manhole covers, but because the cartoonist isn’t good at drawing human expression, you can’t tell if they’re bedazzled by the woman-oid at the podium, or agog with anxiety about the gathering forces of darkness on the far side of the walls. In the end, though, it may not matter: The moment is one of high emotion, where lust and fear and tribalism and envy and pride are all whipped up into a sour souffle in each participant’s brain, and the particulars don’t matter. All that matters is having strong feelings and thrumming with eggy life-energy.
That’s why, even though Melania Trump’s speech is a train wreck (represented in this cartoon by a train falling out of her mouth), nobody in the audience cares. “Plagiarism?” Why would these people give a moment’s thought to some egghead academic crime that only people in tweed jackets care about? (To be sure, there is one academic type in the lower corner of the cartoon; he’s watching the spectacle on his TV and jumping up and down with steam coming out of his ears. He is labeled “Impotent egghead reaction to the future of American Caucasian identity politics.”)
In fact, when you think about it, the audience probably considers it a bonus that portions of Melania’s speech were plagiarized—this will, after all, frustrate Democrats. And the cathartic emotional power of Trump’s transgressions is a huge part of his appeal to these anxious, resentful voters. For the manhole-cover-eyed people in this cartoon, the Trump campaign’s implicit promise of endless offense and its bellowing rebuke to political decency is the only policy position that matters. Maybe this is why, in the upper right-hand corner of the cartoon, we see a tiny man holding his own speech, and yelling “I want more stuff in my speech that’s already been published elsewhere! If you don’t do it I’ll tell my daddy!” We know this man is Donald Trump Jr. because his face looks like it was designed by God to have drinks thrown at it, and also because he is holding a severed elephant’s tail.
You’re almost done looking at the cartoon when you notice one other figure in the background. It’s Chris Christie, preparing for his Tuesday night “indictment” of Hillary Clinton. You know it’s Christie because he’s dressed like a Witch Finder General who swallowed a Volkswagen.