At Least There Is One Thing That Can Still Bring Americans Together

At Least There Is One Thing That Can Still Bring Americans Together

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience on Facebook — a post from one over-the-edge friend complaining aggressively about how her views are being systematically suppressed next to a post from a befuddled friend who went missing for awhile having been booted for something totally benign. Or maybe one of these people is you. In any case, the common theme (and irony) is that Facebook has done them dirty, and they are telling you about it on Facebook.

Add to the mix a recent campaign called “Stop Hate for Profit” that has 400 companies reconsidering their advertisement spending on Facebook, including major corporations like Michigan’s own Ford Motor Company. Facebook gets nearly all of its profits from advertising, so it might be what it takes to get their proper attention to address their complicity in spreading toxic content.

Past efforts by Facebook to correct this have been found lacking. Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to Capital Hill on many occasions where he has so far avoided regulation by making weak promises and shirking responsibilities. All this makes it even easier to dislike him. True, not all of it is deserved, but a net worth of $79.7 billion and an app that is doing a fantastic job of undermining our democracy makes you kind of an easy target.

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When Did We Start Giving up on Tough Problems?

When Did We Start Giving up on Tough Problems?

I considered holding off on drawing this cartoon and saving it for next week and the Independence Day holiday. It would have been more of an indictment of how we as a nation have seemingly forgotten our ideals, how the United States was once young, scrappy, and hungry and we didn’t throw away our shot. (I can steal from Hamilton, too, Mr. Bolton.)

But ya know what? I want to celebrate America next week because there is still plenty to celebrate. I’m proud of my country and its talent, resources, and institutional structure. We have achieved brilliant success in our brief past, and I believe in the vast potential for success in our future.

Besides, I was feeling the frustration of our collective inability to take on difficult problems right now. No reason to save that up. Express it. Get it out there. Confront my fellow Americans with it and challenge them to reconcile who we are with what we want to be.

I have no idea what I’ll draw next week. It may come out as a criticism — it may come out as praise. Either way, it’ll be patriotic.

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The City of Detroit Removes Its Christopher Columbus Statue….

The City of Detroit Removes Its Christopher Columbus Statue....

This week, the City of Detroit removed a bust of Christopher Columbus from its pedestal near the entrance of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. It’s in storage for now as the mayor and city officials decide what to do with it. No doubt it has historical value — it’s 110 years-old. Like many Columbus-related honors, this one came as a gift from Italian-Americans.

Columbus sailed under the flag of Spain, but he was born in Genoa in what is now Italy. Promoting the memory of Columbus was a way for Italian-Americans — who were heavily discriminated against as new immigrants in the early 1900s — to promote themselves as “real” Americans. So the statue was less about honoring Columbus the person and more about what Columbus represented. 

In a similar way, we know the statues and military bases in the South were not so much about honoring the supposed virtuous lives of Confederate Generals as it was about intimidating Blacks many years after the war to codify Jim Crow laws.

Still, history can be a very sensitive thing. We as a society need to be careful about how we handle it. The best take on this that I’ve seen is a recent post by journalist Mike Peterson on his Cartoon Strip of the Day blog, which can be found on dailycartoonist.com. What should we do?

The answer is to stop teaching Great Man History and switch to Major Moment History.

The coming of Europeans to the New World was a Major Moment, and it’s more important to study what it meant to everyone — everyone — involved than to memorize the names of individuals in the big chairs.

Important Point: The cure for Great Man History is not adding the names of Great Women and Great Minorities to the list of meaningless crap kids have to memorize.

It’s teaching how Major Moments — inventions and immigrations and wars and pandemics and economic booms and busts — changed normal lives and, hence, the flavor and tone of the entire nation.

It means fewer statues and more local museums.

You can read the whole article here: http://www.dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2020/06/13/csotd-monumental-questions/

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Do You Want to Talk About Racism?

I am very happy not talking about stuff I find uncomfortable. And I especially prefer avoiding discussions about things that make me feel terrible. Racism would certainly be a topic that qualifies here. So, yeah, I can understand the inclination to deflect, side-step, or look-past the subject. But obviously that isn’t solving the problem. (Heck, talking isn’t even the hard part! It’s the doing after the talking.)

But here we are, America. Here we are again. We’ve been through this before. And we pretty much know what to do. All the post-incident commissions and panels and reports have identified the problems and recommended the solutions. We just somehow keep avoiding really talking about it.

Will this time be different? I’m hopeful it will be. And I find that hope in three words: Black Lives Matter.

Some find those words to be divisive. (Really, any words that address racism can be taken as divisive.) But I think the meaning behind these words, the true aim, is potentially something that can move us all forward.

I didn’t really understand this till it was explained to me. In 2016 I heard the cartoonist Keith Knight talk at a conference, and he was asked about Black Lives Matter. He referenced one of his recent cartoons where he used “Save the Rain Forests” as a metaphor: “When you say, ‘Save the Rain Forests,’ you are saying there is something uniquely important about rain forests that requires specific attention. You are not saying ‘screw all the other forests.'”

I’ve seen variations of this in memes and other cartoons, but I think the point is clear and something to build on. (If we talk and that talk leads to doing.)

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Religion Photo-Ops

Religion Photo-Ops

Whenever I travel on a business trip or attend a conference, I like to go running. It gets me outside to actually experience the place I’m visiting. I’m used to getting up super early, so I run in the pre-dawn hours. City streets, parks, cemeteries, neighborhoods — my only real concern for safety being avoiding cars. As a 6 foot 3 inch white male, I just never considered myself a target. 

A few years ago, I was in Houston. There seemed to be no zoning laws for the streets near the hotel. Sidewalks adjacent to busy roads (and roads are always busy in Houston, even at 6:00AM) were three feet wide and often had telephone poles in the middle. So I made my way to a tony neighborhood and ran there. A law enforcement vehicle shadowed me from the moment I entered to the moment I left. I should have been unnerved by this, right? Nah. I came back the next two days (and wearing the same bandana and a hoodie). Shadowed again, but never engaged.

I am embarrassed to tell you just how recently I have realized what a privileged mindset this is. I mean, I was aware that most women would not feel comfortable running alone in a strange city in the dark, but for any person of color it would be nothing but red flags, fear, and stress. How could I not know this? How could I be so oblivious?

I write this to note that I have been pausing to consider what else I don’t know. And as a result, I haven’t felt qualified to comment much on our nation’s current convulsions.  

But this week, after the staged photo-ops by the President at St.John’s Church and St. John Paul II National Shrine, I finally felt I did have some qualification. It’s indirect to this fight for racial justice, but as a Catholic it is something I have thought a great deal about. I have long understood the President to the be the embodiment of the seven deadly sins (or, for old school Catholics, cardinal sins). But it was using these holy places as a backdrop that brought it into such stark relief.

Pride is generally considered the worst of the seven. What brought the President to stage these photo-ops? Pride. What renders him incapable of seeking reconciliation? Pride. What causes him to never admit an error and instead double-down, triple-down, whatever it takes to never appear to be wrong? Pride. The complete absence of humility. This is not how a servant of the people serves the people.

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Disaster on Our Hands

Disaster on Our Hands

My niece works as a chemical engineer in a petroleum refinery. When the pandemic hit, there was both a glut of oil and a sharp reduction in demand for oil products. That, along with stay-at-home orders for workers, led to the difficult decision to turn off the refinery for a bit. Refineries are intricate arrays of pipes and heat and reactions and processes all kept at a delicate balance. They are not really meant to be turned off because of the difficulty of turning them back on, which is exactly what my niece is going to be faced with soon. (She’s super smart and dedicated, so that’ll help.)

But it’s kinda like that for all of us. We are all having to deal with turning an economy back on that wasn’t necessarily designed to be turned off. In fact, it wasn’t designed at all. So it has all of the intricacies of a refinery, but none of the careful plans and documentation, which will make restarting especially challenging.

Case in point, child care. Michigan Radio had a story this week on the critical need for the child care industry to reboot as parents start getting back to work. But the process is likely to be painfully slow because it wasn’t actually working well before the pandemic. It’s a disaster that is not nearly as spectacular as a long-neglected dam giving way. But for families with young children looking to get their lives back (or at least functional), the lack of quality, affordable child care may make it feel just as devastating.

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Not a Conspiracy Theorist (Definitely a Conspiracy Theorist)

Not a Conspiracy Theorist (Definitely  a Conspiracy Theorist)

Americans have always been prone to conspiracy theories — from the McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to pizzagate and anti-vaxxers. But it certainly seems to hit a higher gear lately, hasn’t it? Of course it doesn’t help having a president who gins up outrage as a matter of course and doesn’t feel confined by details (or truth).

Still, our willingness to enthusiastically believe what should be unbelievable is astonishing. Take the United States Postal Service as an example. It’s an institution older that the country itself with offices in biggest cities and smallest towns that have severed as keystones to our communities. How did it become a bad guy?

We can’t trust them as an integral part of our voting system? Because why? Because it has perpetuated massive voter fraud in the past? (It hasn’t.) Because it will in the future? (It won’t.) Because it’s government run, and therefore part of the deep state? (It isn’t.)

As a cartoonist, it’s can be exhausting trying to keep ahead of the conspiracy theories — to come up with satire so outlandish that it will it will make people pause to think or laugh (hopefully both). But, honestly, drawing a character that blame the historically terrible floods in Midland this week on the post office — is that over-the-top exaggeration or real life?

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Justin Amash Running for President

Justin Amash Running for President

Justin Amash is the current U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 3rd congressional district. He was part of the tea party wave of Republicans elected in 2010. (I used to draw him as Sarah Palin back then.) He turned out to be a bit more substantive, earning a reputation for being thoughtful and deliberative, holding firm to his beliefs. Some would say (including many of his colleagues) too firm.

By 2019 he finally had enough of Trumpism and left the Republican Party, declaring himself independent. Recently, he aligned himself with the Libertarian Party and announced “the formation of an exploratory committee to seek its presidential nomination,” which means he’s now running for president.

Rep. Amash was one of the first national politicians to embrace social media as a means of communicating with his constituents, and he’s about as transparent as you could hope for a lawmaker to be. Whether or not you like his politics, I think you have to respect him. Case in point, Amash recently had a series of tweets defining his position on state-level “stay-in-place” orders. For example:

Government can’t know what is essential. Every human has the right to earn a living. We can live safely without edicts from the governor.

This aligns with Amash’s libertarian views, so points for clarity and consistency. And points off for blind adherence to ideology in the face of a pandemic reality. But that all can be a discussion for another time. The things that really struck me about what Amash said is that (1) he makes a coherent point and (2) he manages to do it being a functional adult (no narcism, no threats, actual words, the whole shabang). Such a low, low bar, and yet it’s thrilling to see somebody make it over!

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Have We Learned Nothing?

Lee Chatfield Interpreter

The current quarantine binge watch of choice in my house is the comedy series Veep. My wife and I had seen a few episodes here and there over its run this past decade, but the dearth of live sports events to watch has afforded us the opportunity.

The show is hilarious. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s the account of Salina Meyer, a fictional Vice President of the United States played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It starts in 2012 and tracks in current time, but the politicians (from Congress to governors to world leaders) are all fictional. Even better, there is never any mention of political party, no left or right, no conservative or liberal. So without the distraction of sides or tribes, the satire can stay focused on the people — the deeply, deeply flawed unrelentingly terrible people. Their awfulness is such an exaggeration that they are almost, well, cartoonish. And that’s what makes it entertaining. 

I realize now that I am attempting very much the same thing with the cartoon this week. I play up House Speaker, Lee Chatfield, and his recent actions related to the coronavirus crisis to reveal a point and (hopefully) entertain. I don’t necessarily believe Chatfield is as awful as a character from Veep. I would like to believe that he has the best interests of Michigan in mind and those interests supersede his political ambitions. 

He and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey seem quite intent on getting Michiganders back to work, which is great. But they also seem to be willfully missing hard lessons from our recent past (if, in fact, you can call the Flint Water Crisis “past”). So I hope what they are doing is not primarily political grandstanding because in the real world that’s just not funny.

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Rights and Responsibilities

Rights and Responsibilities

I have a life hack for you. It applies mostly to guys (at least that has been my experience), but I think everybody could find it useful. Here it is: If you are ever in a situation where people are encouraging you to do something by telling you “don’t be a p—-y,” then don’t do it. In other words, never do what they are encouraging you to do. Simple, right? Not following their advice is 100% always the right choice.

Now, there will be instances in life when you’ll be advised to step up, take responsibility, even “be a man.” Sometimes those giving the advice will have your best interests in heart, and you can at least consider taking it. But if they say “don’t be a p—-y,” yeah, they don’t care about you.

Here’s a similar one: People who talk only rights but never responsibilities are better off not being listened to. What they are saying is all about them and nothing about you (or anybody else really).

I didn’t come up with the rights/responsibilities life hack myself. It’s from a podcast I heard recently, but it might as well have been from a high school civics course. Citizens taking care to exercise their rights responsibly is a basic tenant on which democracies depend to function properly. 

Also, don’t drink bleach. That’s another good one.

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