Here’s the thing a lot of purportedly more astute commentators than myself seem to consistently miss : we don’t just live in absurd times, or troubling times, or even dangerous times —we live in grotesque times, and the current occupant of the Oval Office is a living caricature that embodies more or less every ugly aspect of the national character we used to at least have the nominal decency to attempt to sweep under the rug, or to even go so far as to pretend didn’t exist. Now, however, the mask is off : the anti-intellectualism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, self-centeredness, and genuflecting at the altar of violence both casual and savage that at least appeared to be on the way out, or viewed as unfortunate aspects of the past well worth being ashamed of, are back with a vengeance, and celebrated with a kind of gleeful abandon by the former reality show host and serially-failing businessman installed into office by an anitquated body designed to placate the slave-owning states despite finishing in second place in the last election by a fairly healthy margin.
It’s no secret that Trump himself is disgusting, sure, but he also says something disgusting about us and about a system that would allow for his rise to power in the first place. Cartoonist Warren Craghead III not only hasn’t lost sight of this fact, however — to his credit, he’s refused to do the easy thing and turn away from it, opting instead to churn out a drawing every day, from Trump’s nomination as the GOP’s presidential standard-bearer onward, reflecting the sickening character of the man, the times, and the deteriorating cultural zeitgeist that’s taken hold over all of us. The end result is two collections of illustrations presented in handsome hardcovers by the Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics joint publishing venture, 2017’s TrumpTrump Volume 1 : Nomination To Inauguration, and its 2018 follow-up, which we’re looking at specifically here, TrumpTrump Volume 2 : Modern Day Presidential.
The daily parade of scandals and absurdities that has become our daily reality has numbed so many of us into a a kind of “survival mode” acquiescence that it’s easy to forget how horrifying “Mr. MAGA” has been from day one of his campaign, but once sworn in, the near-endless succession of atrocities committed against the body politic undoubtedly kicked into another gear, and the sad truth is that things like Trump’s early saber-rattling with North Korea, his (fortunately) failed Muslim travel ban, his rhetorical embrace of the Charlotesville (where Craghead himself lives) neo-Nazis, and his packing of the federal courts with extremist right-wing nutcases has sort of faded into the background, superseded by immigrant concentration camps, obscene tax cuts for the wealthy, extortion schemes to strong-arm political favors out of suffering former Soviet republics and, of course, one dumbfuck tweet after another. Re-visting these early days abominations is, therefore, both a valuable historical review and a call to be properly outraged all over again.
Craghead’s illustrations fall firmly within the standard ethos of political cartooning, but with a healthy does of underground influence added to the mix : portraying Trump as a putrid, morbidly obese, festering mutation probably wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in, say, an S. Clay Wilson comic, but herein are channeled through the sensibilities of The Washington Post editorial page to occupy a kind of fascinating middle-ground between the two, a kind of “sophisticated ugliness” that’s exaggerated, sure, but in no way actively or actually inaccurate when push comes to shove. Frankly, the only people I can imagine not being impressed by the cartooning on display in this book are Republicans, and who ever trusted their aesthetic tastes in the first place?
Is this incendiary stuff? Sure. But it’s a reaction to an incendiary figure pursuing an incendiary agenda by incendiary means, and therefore it can’t be viewed as anything other than “return fire” from a side that sure as hell didn’t lob off the first shot — and anyone who gets incensed at Craghead but gives Trump a pass reveals him or herself to the be a hopeless hypocrite. Besides, it’s the job of an artist to provoke, to engender a sense of outrage, to raise the blood pressure of the lethargic — a president, not so much. Maybe I’m just hopelessly naive, but I always thought representing some kind of “national unifying force” was part and parcel of that gig.
TrumpTrump Volume 2 : Modern Day Presidential is, then, something other and more than simply the “equal and opposite reaction” that this sorry excuse for both a president and a human being could be expected to accrue to himself and that both he and his supporters frankly have zero right to complain about as long as they wallow in the gutter themselves. It’s the continuation and updating of a proud American tradition (yes, we still have a few of those) of resistance to tyranny and despotism, of mocking the powerful, and of using art as a tool for spurring on political action. Oh, and much as Trump himself might wish otherwise, it’s also completely protected under the auspices of the First Amendment, and represents precisely the kind of provocative expression the founders of this country had in mind when they put together the Bill Of Rights in the first place.
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