Uniter, Not Divider — We Picked the Wrong Entertainer

Oprah the Uniter, Donald the Divider

Back in August, Oprah Winfrey traveled to Grand Rapids to be a surprise moderator for a panel discussion. Various West Michiganders had signed up to be part of a focus group about the current state of American politics. Fourteen were chosen, seven who had voted for Donald Trump in November and seven who had voted for Hilary Clinton.

The resulting piece, entitled “Divided,” aired on 60 Minutes last Sunday. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see it, I highly encourage you to do so and draw your own conclusions. For me, it was reassuring. There were plenty of heated moments to be sure, but they were worked through. Differences of opinion were given thoughtful consideration, which then gave way to what appeared to be actual communication!

Particularly compelling was one gentleman’s concern that our American experiment with respectful discussion seems to be ending (especially with all the others nodding in agreement).

This stood in stark contrast with nearly everything the President has done or said this past week. And maybe this is a good opportunity to clarify my position: I’m not a bandwagoner for disliking Mr. Trump. I’ve never liked Donald Trump. I didn’t like him as a Democrat. I don’t like him as a Republican. He is a deeply narcissistic bully, and he has demonstrated this quite consistently over a very public lifetime. I have ample evidence and every reason not to trust him. I don’t trust Donald Trump for the same reason I wouldn’t trust putting my drawing hand into a running meat grinder: I know the consequence.

There. I expressed my opinion as clearly and with as little emotion as possible. I appreciate you reading it. I did it not with any desire to convert, but simply to be heard. Thank you. I will continue to do my best to hear others. We don’t have to agree or even find common ground. But we must not dismiss. Or worse, stop talking.


The Perfect Candidate for Governor

The Perfect Candidate for Governor

A few years ago, an episode of the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation” featured a character, Congressman Dave Murray. He was a handsome, congenial politician who would perform perfectly everything his handlers asked of him — without question and without controversy.

Even better, when he wasn’t shaking hands or talking into a camera, he’d go off into a room and sit staring off into the distance waiting for his next assignment. The regular characters (who were from the Midwest) were aghast. But the Congressman’s Washington DC advisors didn’t care if he might in fact be a robot; he was the perfect political candidate. I thought it was a brilliant piece of political satire.

Cut to Bill Schuette announcing his run for governor of Michigan. While the Attorney General definitely has a mind of his own, his insistence on calling himself the “jobs governor” portends a candidacy where he does not plan to use it. What does “jobs governor” even mean? I don’t know, but it sounds nice, and it’s catchy. (See? He made me repeat it.)

Cut to a story on Michigan Radio last week. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was about to adopt a proposal on allowing protections to be applied to LGBT people in sex discrimination cases. At the eleventh hour, the attorney general’s office stopped the process saying it was a matter for the Legislature (after earlier declining to offer a legal opinion). That reveals something about the character and intentions of candidate Bill Schuette.

I wouldn’t have known about this if not for Michigan Radio. Certain candidates are happy to hide in their script — journalism reveals their character and intentions. I know the fall membership drive is over, but it bears repeating: This is why we need responsible journalism. (And political satire is nice, too.)


Amazon’s Second Headquarters. Good for Michigan?

Amazon's Second Headquarters. Good for Michigan?

The cartoon wasn’t necessarily meant as an indictment of Michigan (although our embarrassing weaknesses in education and public transportation will likely prevent us from winning the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes). It was meant as an indictment of the United States as a whole.

Now before I end up in stump speech for some publicity-grubbing pop star running (or not running) for Senate, let me say some nice things about America. America is great. America has vast resources. America is very wealthy. America has lots of talent.

And yet we can’t seem to make a commitment these days to leverage our advantages. For example, in the few days it took to conceive and create this cartoon, protections for immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been all over the board. Is the program over? Is it not? Do we have a deal? Will there be a law? What is actually going to happen? Businesses and (more importantly) people cannot make plans in such an environment.

America is a country of immigrants. This is possibly our biggest advantage. But each time we waver, we let our unique advantage get chipped away.

Last week there was a story in the Holland Sentinel about Basel Alyasin, an immigrant who fled Syria with his family at the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.

After moving their way around the Middle East, the Alyasin family eventually made it to Grand Haven, Michigan last year. Alyasin opened an electronics repair business on Main Street in downtown Zeeland and set about living the entrepreneurial, small-business, coming-to-America dream. You know, the one that pays the taxes, creates jobs, and builds the economy.

But now the Alyasin family has decided to move to Canada. They cannot be sure of their status in the United States, so before they become more invested, they are leaving. Maybe not for a better opportunity but certainly for a better commitment.

The truth is, the chances of the second Amazon headquarters ending up in Canada are pretty slim. But the chances of the next Amazon being created in Canada (and not the United States) are getting better and better.


Kid Rock to Open Little Caesar’s Arena — It Could Be Worse

Kid Rock to Open Little Caesar's Arena — It Could Be Worse

If you’ve read the cartoon, you’ve already seen enough of my words. So I only have three quick observations to add here:

  • I don’t particularly enjoy Kid Rock’s music, but I decided against making that any sort of issue. (My own tastes in music are hardly defensible.) Plus, the fastest way to turn people against you is to insult music they like. For example, if I were to hypothetically present the notion that perhaps Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” is not the top-tier piece of musical perfection most of Michigan thinks it is, would you immediately want to punch me in the throat? (I said “hypothetically” — please don’t punch me in the throat!)
  • I do believe that Kid Rock should play those shows. He’s an entertainer — let him entertain. If he chooses to be divisive, well it’s his future sales and legacy that he will have to deal with. Then in 10 years, when this arena is obsolete (and a new one is built on the river to revitalize the downtown), he’ll have nobody to blame but himself if he’s not invited to play that opening.
  • “Who performs first at a venue” is not really a thing. Almost nobody is going to remember the initial performer of Little Caesar’s. As long as nobody puts a Kid Rock statue out front in his honor. (Can we at least all agree on that? No Kid Rock statue, okay? Good.)


That’s Not Your Side!

That's Not Your Side!

Labor Day is Monday, which of course begs the question: What side is it on? Is it exclusive to union workers or to entrepreneurs? Does it celebrate individual laborers in their quest to provide for their families or groups that grow prosperity by developing their trade? Is it more of a man thing or a woman thing? Is God for it or against it? And where does it stand on nuclear proliferation? Public breastfeeding? The designated hitter rule?…

An exaggeration? Well, maybe a little. But this “sides” thing is how we are now conditioned to think — every issue seemingly must align with either one side or the other. Every issue is binary: strictly for or against. And they all have to fit within the structure of a declared political party. Sheesh! Has it always been this bad? I don’t think so, but then maybe out of desperation I’m remembering good ol’ days that never were.

We could use a break. Michigan has a particularly rich labor history. We should celebrate it by enjoying a day off from having to line up every issue we encounter with some political goal or aspiration. Happy Labor Day!


Why Are We Honoring General Gerrymander?

Why Are We Honoring General Gerrymander?

I struggled with how exactly to draw a gerrymander statue. My initial instinct was to draw it as an abstract monster because that’s where the term came from. In 1812 a Governor Gerry in Massachusetts signed a bill to redistrict his state to benefit his political party. One of the oddly shaped districts resembled a salamander. A famous editorial cartoon exaggerated the district shape as a monster, and thus Gerry plus salamander became gerrymander.

But then I figured most readers would be more visually familiar with a civil war statue than an editorial cartoon from 1812 (however famous), so I settled on General Gerrymander. (Of course it would have been much better to have the General on horseback, but I’m terrible at drawing horses.)

This also allowed me to more directly address the ongoing issue of venerating those who fought on the wrong side of the American Civil War. My thoughts: Cemeteries are good places to memorialize the dead. Museums are great places to remember leaders of the past. And books are fantastic places to document and add context to both.

But let’s reserve public places of honor (town squares, monument rows, etc.) for the honorable. Tradition and heritage are good — until they start to choke us. We live in a dynamic country, and we are blessed to have a system designed to accommodate change. Let’s take advantage of that.

As for gerrymandering, I know it’s against our human nature, but we would be better off not thinking in terms of sides and avoid attempts to unfairly leverage advantages. The goal should be to create the most equitable districts possible and let the best ideas win. (Then again, I would ideally take the time to learn how to draw horses, but I doubt that’s ever going to happen.)


The Scariest Thing of All

The Scariest Thing of All

I am on vacation this week. (I drew this cartoon last week, Friday.) I tried to anticipate how I would feel at this point. It was easy to predict (and poke fun at) my selfish self — that despite whatever terrible events were going on around the world, nation, and state, the thing I’d likely find most frightening was the end of summer.

But it is also a testament to the beauty and wonder of our Michigan summer. I am among the blessed who can share a week with their Michigan family on a Michigan lake by working Michigan jobs at Michigan companies and schools, eating Michigan produce and possibly imbibing a few Michigan beers.

That was my intention. And then the events in Charlottesville, followed by the “many sides” defense of our elected leader, his painfully scripted and insincere attempt at clarity, and then the inevitable doubling-down again on his “many sides” disgrace.

Vacation time remains precious, so let me be direct and clear. If I were to draw the cartoon right now, it would be to deliver a singular message: Resign, Mr. President. Resign.


Governor Snyder Is Turning Into…

Governor Snyder Is Turning Into...

I’ve been observing this game of Michigan politics long enough now that I can definitely detect patterns. This is quite useful for editorial cartooning, but makes me insufferable at cocktail parties:

“…and so those are just a few of my many observations regarding governmental paradigm shifts in post-industrial Midwestern states. Wait, where are you going? I have more keen insights to share! You shouldn’t gulp your drink like that!! Why are you running?!!!”

Fortunately for other people, I don’t go to cocktail parties.

One pattern is that governors from Blanchard to Engler to Granholm and now Snyder end up trying to land the big fish. Despite whatever good intentions they might have had at first for growing the economy (investment in education and infrastructure for Democrats, reducing barriers and fostering small-business growth for Republicans), they all fall for the seduction of the mega-deals that promise thousands and thousands of jobs. I’m guessing it feels like an opportunity for a legacy.

Often, however, the legacy is not a good legacy — especially for the mega-deals because they take a lot of tax money (credits, abatements, packages) to make them happen. It’s really difficult to tell whether they are worthwhile. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is trying to pull off a deal with Foxconn to build an LCD screen factory by offering $3 billion in incentives. The payback (assuming all goes well) would be in (wait for it) 25 years!

Okay, maybe the deals Governor Snyder wants to cut will turn out fine. But the language he’s using is very similar to the language Governor Granholm was using a decade ago. And didn’t Snyder originally run on a platform to get state government out of “picking winners and losers”? I guess it’s hard to remember that stuff when you’re concentrating on landing that big fish.


Former Army Medic and Vietnam War Hero James McCloughan

Former Army Medic and Vietnam War Hero James McCloughan

On Monday, July 31 former Army medic and Vietnam War vet, Jim McCloughan, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the President at a White House ceremony.

His story is breathtaking. In 1969 during the Battle of Nui Yon Hill, McCloughan’s company came under heavy fire and was in full retreat. As his fellow soldiers ran for cover, McCloughan was consistently moving the opposite direction and into harm’s way to collect the wounded and bring them to safety. Even when he himself was wounded, McCloughan refused to quit. In the end, he is credited with saving 10 soldiers over three days of fighting. Reflecting back on this, McCloughan said:

“I’d rather die on the battlefield than have heard later on that one of my men didn’t make it because their medic was not there.”

A more detailed (and better told) account of this can be found on NPR.org.

Editorial cartoonists often get accused of “politicizing” things that some people feel should not be politicized. I can see how some may feel this way about today’s cartoon. But for me, it’s not at all about politics; it’s about character and the stark, stark difference between the two men at the ceremony.

Mr. McCloughan is the quintessential American hero. After Vietnam, Mr. McCloughan returned to Michigan and spent 40 years teaching geography, sociology, and psychology at South Haven High School. In addition, he coached football, wrestling, and baseball. Humble. Brave. Selfless. A thoroughly decent human being.

I’ll leave it at that.


What’s a Good Reason to Restrict Access to Health Care?

What's a Good Reason to Restrict Access to Health Care?

This week’s cartoon is an open question to my fellow Christians. It’s not intended to exclude non-Christians — you’re certainly welcome to ponder it, too. It’s just that I’ve never committed myself to a non-Christian faith or philosophy, so I wouldn’t presume to have the qualifications. Whereas I’ve been an active, practicing Roman Catholic all my life.

“Practicing” being the key word here. I’ve been at it a long time, but can’t say that I’ve got it right. The best evaluation I could hope for at any given performance review would be “does not meet expectations.” So I ask not from a position of “holier than thou,” but from a genuine confusion in trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus Christ with American health care policy.

Obviously my question is easily traced to the ongoing chaos playing out in Washington DC. Watching the Congress grapple with health care these past few months feels like a live theater production of the Book of Revelations (except Revelations is more whimsical and easier to understand).

But what really tripped it off was State Senator Rick Jones submitting a bill to eliminate health insurance benefits for domestic partners for state employees.

In the context of our current system, it seems sensible enough. Jones wants to save the state some money. Why don’t these people just get married? Well, here are a couple of things:

There are rules in place to limit if not eliminate gaming the system — couples must prove they are in fact domestic partners. And the money saved (a million annual dollars) is relatively minor, especially if you consider that it is going to provide health care for real, actual people.

But it’s his awkward attempt at being hip with the kids (“put a ring on it”) that exposes the undercurrent. Two years ago Jones floated the same bill in the hopes of eliminating health care benefits to same-sex couples. This isn’t about saving money; this is about enforcing moral superiority.

The idea of meting out basic human health care based on a person’s wealth, intelligence, or morality is simply not Christ-like. I mean, what’s next? Kicking transgender people out of the military because of their supposed potential for health care expense?



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