Betsy DeVos Told Them To

Betsy DeVos Told Them To

When the president-elect nominated Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education last week, the most obvious metaphor seemed to be the fox put in charge of the hen-house. I rolled that around in my head for awhile but couldn’t make it work. I don’t think DeVos is that carnivorous or the education establishment that docile. (Plus drawing anthropomorphic characters is not really my strong suit. So, as is often the case, laziness wins.)

This cartoon worked much better because it reveals my main issue with the DeVos nomination: She’s a crank. A crank (for lack of a better term, let me know if there is one) is a person caught up in her own thoughts, plans, and ideology — dogmatically indifferent to the consequences. It’s been my experience that nearly every organization has one — work group, school board, sports team, professional society, whatever.

And for the most part, it’s good to have a crank. They provide a vital service: They keep everybody else honest. Nobody wants to set the crank off, so we tend to plan more carefully. For example, say you’re the chair of a church committee to raise funds for a mission trip. There is consensus for a pancake breakfast, but there is a crank on the finance team who believes with all her heart that using food for fundraising is a grave sin. If indeed you want to move forward, you will make sure to organize a solid and defensible plan. (Or you may decide to go with a bikini car wash instead, which oddly she has no problem with.)

But the last thing you want is for the crank to be in charge. Cranks by their nature are “my way or the highway” types and likely with a chip on the shoulder from having been handled and circumvented so much in the past. (Think Dwight Schrute from the TV series “The Office.”)

Of course, I’m prejudging here. Ms. DeVos may turn out to be the second coming of Eleanor Roosevelt — a determined woman from the privileged class who used her position to serve the poor and disenfranchised. But if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Dwight Schrute.

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Stop Not Aligning with Our Data!

Stop Not Aligning with Our Data!

Okay, all right. Just one more cartoon on national political affairs, and I’ll try to turn my attention back to more Michigan-based shenanigans. But I couldn’t let this one go — it’s been festering for some time.

There is not a whole lot to add because we’ve all just experienced it. For the entire election season Americans have been managed and categorized, sorted and labeled, diced and sliced by both major political parties.

We are not individual voters with actual thoughts and real concerns. We are herds of demographics who think in lock-step on singular issues.

Analyzing data may bear this out to be approximately true (sometimes), but only with broad stereotyping, and the effect is awful. We are driven to fall in line with what the data says we ought to be. It drains away both the importance of free-thinking and our empathy for others. A group of people who are black become “the blacks.” Rural white people become “hillbillies.” Women become something less than a “real” person.

I would think that the first political party to be truly authentic and make us feel less managed would have a real advantage. I know that’s asking a lot, but if I had a wish list, that would be near the top.

Now then, what’s all this about Nestle trying to sneak our drinking water out of Michigan?

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Nobody Wants to Be a Sucker

Don't Wanna Be a Sucker

Here’s a theory that might help to unify us in these difficult times: What all Americans really, really hate is to be a sucker. Whatever else we disagree on — politics, ideology, economics, dessert toppings, the truth — a common bond is that nobody likes being a sucker.

I think that had an enormous effect on getting Trump elected. Consider this: Many white folks who felt disenfranchised (a fancy word for feeling like a sucker) voted. Many black folks who felt disenfranchised didn’t vote. A little amplification by the electoral college, and — boom! — the GOP wins.

And as I say in the cartoon (literally, that’s me), my inclination is to respect the results. I’m good American. I believe in our system of government. I want to play along. But based on Paul Ryan’s habit of continuously abandoning his moral convictions, Mitch McConnell’s unrelenting enthusiasm for not doing his job (until now), and Donald Trump’s entire life history, I have some reservations. I share with you, my fellow Americans, your same passion: I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. A. Sucker.

That makes sense, right? I mean, whether you are for or against the objectives of the Republican party, you can at least understand my desire to resist. Yes? No? Well, in any case, you decide. Because that’s another thing we Americans really, really hate: Being told what to think.

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Work Together? Umm…

Let's Work Together ...Bitch

Earlier this week I was pulling into work when a replay of a Renee Montagne interview with the great Mel Brooks came up on Michigan Radio. I took the the opportunity to sit in the car and listen to the entire thing. It was good timing all around. Like always, he made me laugh out loud. But he also gave me some perspective.

Brooks has made a brilliant career out of finding the humor in the absurdity, the cruelty, the hypocrisy of life. As such, I could quote a thousand Mel Brooks lines that capture the essence of the 2016 campaign. But what came to mind as I got out of the car and walked to the office was one of his more obscure efforts.

“The Twelve Chairs” was Brooks’ second movie (after “The Producers” and before “Blazing Saddles”). It is primarily about relentless human greed, and it’s hilarious. One of the best parts is the theme song written specifically for the film. If you don’t have time to dig for the film, I strongly encourage you to listen to the song: https://youtu.be/l_TKXPPjhRk

It’s my theme for the impending Trump presidency. The title? “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.”

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It Was Nicer When They Used to Give Up on Us

It Was Nicer When They Gave Up on Us

Like most of us, I’ve pretty much run out of things to say about the election. Any thoughts — from salient points to outraged rants — have been expressed. I see many (cartoonists, commentators, Facebook posters) are settling now for “wow, what a messed up election season this has been” reflections, and that’s certainly understandable.

But I figured the most honest way for me to summarize would be to have one last go with Mr. Trump. He showed up again in Michigan this week, and I really, really, really tried to wrap my head around the idea of why I would consider voting for him.

A lyric from a song by the group Stars came to mind. (They’re Canadian, but it think it still applies.) It goes:

“When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”

To me that means that if you reach a point of total desperation, there is nothing left to do but to take a chance on anything else. If you feel that the current America is completely lost and hopeless, then, yes, why not cast your lot with a charismatic promiser-of-things like Donald Trump? It has romantic appeal that satisfies passionate desires. I get that.

I just don’t agree with it. First, I have faith in the American system. It can be aggravating and slow, untidy and unfair. Sometimes it feels broken. But that’s the way it has always been — we’ve been much more broken than this (1860, 1932, 1968) and not turned to demagoguery to find a way forward.

Second, he is simply not suited for the job. Emperor? Maybe. Generalissimo? Probably. But President of the United States? I don’t think so.

But in an election where feelings have won out over facts, it comes down to this: Trump is exactly the person my parents brought me up NOT to be. Why would I help make him my country’s leader?

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Just Listen to Me! I Can Tell You How to Vote!

Just Listen to Me! I Can Tell You How to Vote!

In the spirit of today’s cartoon, allow me to tell you some things that you already know:

  • That brother-in-law prolifically posting those unbelievably inaccurate memes from organizations like “FreedomPatriotAmericaLibertyNews”? Your delightfully clever yet cutting reply in the comments is not going to change his mind.
  • That dear church friend who prays right next to you and yet has diametrically opposing political views? Your unsolicited email detailing (with source citations and color-coded charts) the errors in her thinking is not going to change her mind.
  • Those co-workers having a conversation in the next cubicle in which they merrily parrot the lies fabricated by those extremist lie fabricators you absolutely detest? Your helpful interruption to set them straight and save them from a life of further ignorance will not change their minds.

Aggravating, isn’t it? It just seems that… I mean if they could only… But, but I’d actually be helping them if… *Sigh* In our heart of hearts we know giving in to those impulses will cause more harm than good. How do we know? Because we hate it when other people do it to us.

But cheer up. After the election, you can move on to the next phase. Unfortunately, that next phase involves not telling these very same people “I told you so” or “I still think you’re wrong” — depending on the election results.

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Michigan GOP Bizarro World

Michigan GOP Bizarro World

Pointing out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in politics has always been the go-to source for material for editorial cartooning. But in this year’s bizarro election cycle — oh my goodness! — it’s shooting fish in a barrel!

Of course tea party activist Wendy Day was dismissed from her job as grassroots vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party for leading a grassroots effort against tea party favorite Donald Trump. Naturally party chair Ronna Romney McDaniel justified her decision by emphasizing the supreme importance of party loyalty just as the party presidential nominee “unshackles” himself for a pitched battle with fellow Republicans. This stuff writes itself!

So it only makes sense that this year Democrats — the party heretofore known for their dysfunction — pulled strings behind the scenes to nominate a presidential candidate who (like her or not) actually aligns with the party platform. And Republicans — the party heretofore known for their absolute top-down control — ended up with a presidential candidate who is completely devoid of any virtue they supposedly represent: family values, business integrity, Christian morality, not whining. It’s almost too easy.

Maybe the true bizarro world would be one in which the inconsistencies and hypocrisies are difficult to find. As an editorial cartoonist that would present a challenge. As an American citizen, it’d be wonderful to have such a challenge.

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Comparing Ford and Trump

Comparing Ford and Trump

It’s getting to be an archaic reference, so for you kids out there: Back in 1975 when Gerald Ford was president, upon arrival on a trip to Austria he stumbled down the stairway when exiting Air Force One. (Additional note: Back then it was normal to get off a plane and walk down steps to the tarmac, not a walkway connected to the terminal. I know, primitive.) He had some other mishaps caught on video tape — an avid golfer, on a couple of occasions he sent errant shots into galleries. But what really cemented the clumsy reputation was the first season of Saturday Night Live in which breakout star Chevy Chase played Ford as a bumbling, stumbling idiot.

As the woman in my cartoon said, Ford was a little incredulous about all this (he was a college football star at the University of Michigan and probably the most athletic president we’ve ever had), but he handled it with grace and humor. In fact in 1986 he hosted a symposium at his new presidential museum in Grand Rapids titled, “Humor and the Presidency.” Not only did he invite Chase, but he also invited columnists and editorial cartoonists, including Pat Oliphant who had mercilessly drawn Ford throughout his presidency with an oversized cranium and a band-aid or two prominently on the forehead. Ford was nothing but genuinely charming about it all.

So my cartoon isn’t entirely accurate. (One more additional note: Most of them aren’t.) Another shared trait between Gerald Ford and Donald Trump is that they are both flawed. Obviously the nature of the flaws matters a great deal. But maybe what matters even more is what is done with those flaws. When you fall down, do you get back up, learn from your mistake, and move forward with thoughtfulness and graciousness? Or are you Donald Trump?

(By the way, it was not a flaw but an honor that Ford was never actually elected president — he was appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned and then President when Richard Nixon resigned. Which is also a pretty good reminder that American politics have always been a least a little screwed up.)

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Now That the Tigers Are out of the Playoffs…

Now That the Tigers Are out of the Playoffs...

So the common question these days is: “How did it come to this — how did we end up with these presidential candidates?” And the simplest answer to that is: “It’s our fault.” Would a curious, engaged, and active electorate have generated the current tickets? Probably not. I think there is a general sense that we could have done better.

But maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much. This self-governance — it’s a hopelessly human activity with all its brokenness and potential for failure. We are just bound to screw up sometimes, I guess. What’s the lyric from that Gin Blossom’s song, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down”? Yep, that’s the one.

The thing is, we are the United States of America. We do need to expect more. Our country was founded on the very concept of expecting more out of its citizens. And for years we have been a beacon of that expectation to the world — certainly not perfect, but at least positive, hopeful.

Alas, we may have turned a corner. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Kenyan editorial cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa speak at a conference. Mr. Mwampembwa goes by the pen name Gado, and he certainly knows a thing or two about having to deal with “big men” political leaders. As part of a panel discussion, he had this insight while discussing some of his cartoons featuring Donald Trump:

“The African people are watching the American election with amusement. They just cannot believe what is happening. Africans have always been lectured that ‘you have these dictators.’ And now we are laughing because you are going to get one of your own. And we can’t wait because we want to hear what you will say to us.”

Yeah, we can definitely do better.

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Sometimes the Government DOES Owe Us Something

Sometimes the Government DOES Owe Us Something

In 2009 more than 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in Detroit’s abandoned crime lab. Rape kits contain the physical evidence of victims of sexual assault. When processed, the DNA data generated can be used not only to bring perpetrators to justice, but also to add this information to a national database of sex offenders. This is especially useful because those who commit these crimes are often serial rapists — if they are successfully prosecuted, it can prevent future instances and help victims to find closure.

In response to the situation, the state of Michigan passed a law to fund the processing of these rape kits. Still, there has been a need for private donations and fundraising campaigns to get through the backlog and then to provide money for investigators to actually finish the job.

It’s easy for those outside the city to shake our heads (or wag our fingers) and say this is all just another example of Detroit’s uniquely awful dysfunction. But as it turns out, further investigation has revealed that smaller cities and towns are also suffering from backlogged rape kits. From a recent Michigan Radio report:

“The Michigan Attorney General asked cities to submit a count of untested rape kits in their jurisdictions. Backlogs turned up in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing, Battle Creek and several others.”

Exactly why this is, experts don’t really know, but the Detroit experience provides clues: Budget cuts and overwhelmed staffs. The lack of a clear and complete procedure for the entire process. Police sometimes callous indifference to the victims.

We are six weeks away from an election, so now is a pretty good time to ask: Do we want a responsive, reasonably funded government interested in real protection and prevention? Or do we want to continue down a path where rape victims end up depending on bake sales to provide them proper support? Please vote accordingly.

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