It occurred to me after watching Mark Fiore’s terrific and terrifying cartoon on Kos today that biting satire can be more powerful than intellectual appeals and arguments. Witness the effect that Tina Fey’s portrayal of Sarah Palin had on delegitimizing her. Mockery is a powerful tool. In the hands of someone like Trump it energizes and incites his supporters. It outrages and nauseates us, but there’s no doubt it is highly effective with his audience. On the other hand, responsible mockery, which I’d prefer to call satire, takes the truth and conveys it in an easily accessible way. Trump, in his contemptuous ridicule, reaches the primitive brain of an audience that isn’t repelled by his narcissism. Conversely, good satire appeals to — dare I say — the more highly evolved intellect.
Satirists, whether cartoonists or writers like those on The Onion or Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker can cut to the bone with a few chosen images or words. Here’s a typical Borowitz piece:
Presidential candidate Donald Trump revealed a little-known episode of personal heroism from his youth on Saturday, telling an Iowa audience that he narrowly avoided capture in Vietnam by remaining in the United States for the duration of the war.
“The Cong were after me,” Trump said, visibly stirred by the memory. “And then, just in the nick of time, I got my deferment.”
The former reality-show star said he had never shared his record as a war hero before because “I don’t like to boast.”
All this brings me to Thomas Nast. He is generally considered our first political cartoonist. His drawings of Tammany Hall despot William “Boss” Tweed, mostly for Harpers, made him the only man Tweed is said to have feared. In fact, when Tweet was on the lam from the law, the police found and arrested him in Spain based on Nash’s drawings.
Tweed was a Democrat and Nash was a Republican. He began to depict the Republican Party as a powerful elephant. Eventually it was his drawings that led to this becoming the official mascot of the party.
Look at the cartoons below and think what Nash would be doing to Donald Trump today.
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