Cartoon Politics

September 9, 2022 Updated: September 9, 2022

Commentary

Few can doubt that if a Republican president—any Republican president—had delivered a speech like the one President Joe Biden gave in Philadelphia last week, talk of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove such a dangerously paranoid lunatic from office would have swiftly followed. And it would not have been limited to members of the opposition party.

Yet even the Republicans’ response to Biden has been mostly pretty subdued. They’re so used to being called a threat to democracy that, bar the shoutier voices in the right-wing media ghetto, even Biden’s escalation of the threat “to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country” hardly registers with them anymore.

I expect it will hardly register with voters either, unless in a negative way.

But to those who hope that Americans’ sense of decency and fair play will create a backlash in November, I would say: don’t count on it.

For people are now so used not only to the portrayal of Republicans as cartoon supervillains but to the whole fantastical and cartoonified context in which our public and political life is now lived that they can hardly be bothered to object to it anymore.

As Gregg Opelka wrote in the Wall Street Journal, the Biden speech resembled nothing so much as an episode of “Get Smart,” the 1960s’ television spy spoof in which Don Adams played Maxwell Smart, the bumbling secret agent with the shoe-telephone.

“You can see the parallel,” wrote Opelka: “Donald Trump is Mr. Big, ‘MAGA Republicans’ are KAOS, and Mr. Biden is in CONTROL. The Chief warns: ‘Max, this is a big one. The fate of our entire nation may depend on it.’”

Ha ha. The only difference is that, back in the ’60s, people laughed at such stuff. Nowadays, after 40 years of a cartoonified popular culture, we can only manage a weary smile when that culture expands its empire to take over real-life politics too.

Except that there’s no such thing as real-life politics anymore. All politics takes place in the realm of the spin-doctors’ fantasies.

Just as, Chief Justice John Roberts to the contrary notwithstanding, there are no just plain judges anymore, but only Republican and Democratic judges—plus a few, like the Chief Justice himself, who can’t make up their minds which they are—so there’s no reality anymore but only Republican and Democratic realities.

This is the logical outcome of what Alan S. Rome in the Australian online journal Quillette calls “the infantilization of culture and history.”

Nowadays, he points out, even the cartoons of a few years ago—like Disney’s “Jungle Book” or “Aladdin”—are deemed too dangerous for children to watch, lest they encounter some outdated racial or sexual “stereotype” and get their little imaginations corrupted by it.

And just as ’Toon Town must be continually purified of wrong-think, and continually updated to reflect the latest version of the left’s utopian fantasy, so must the political life formerly known as “real” be re-cast as a perpetual cartoon struggle between good and evil.

The media ensure that it isn’t even an option for Republicans to refuse to play this game, as Donald Trump once seemed to have realized by embracing his role as pantomime villain or pro-wrestling “heel,” and won by doing so. It was when he went back to trying to be a good guy that he ran into trouble.

Likewise, Alison Somin at the Law & Liberty website writes of the tendency of congresspersons to hand off responsibility for the harder and more controversial matters under their purview to executive branch regulators as “infantilizing Congress”—presumably because they believe that voters will only elect those they see as cartoon heroes without spot or the (ideological) blemish that comes from compromising with the evil ones.

None of this would be possible, however, without the prior infantilization of the media and the culture which it serves. Without this, Biden is just a less funny version of Maxwell Smart. With it, even he can imagine that he’s a kind of superhero, pitted against the supervillain of Mar-a-Lago.

“Joe Biden’s Big Month,” writes John Cassidy of The New Yorker in what turns out not to be a misprint for “Joe Biden’s Big Mouth.” His sub-head elaborates: “The President is getting things done and reaffirming that his historic role is to defeat Trump and Trumpism.”

Biden as a man of destiny? Does anybody outside the fever swamp believe this? But the media keep trying to craft a heroic narrative for their corrupt favorites, even if it means acknowledging that they’re outside the rule of law.

Thus, David Graham of The Atlantic writes a propos of the FBI raid on the Trump compound at Mar-a-Lago as follows:

“As the great American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Omar Little each expressed in their own ways, if you go after the king, you can’t make a mistake. The Department of Justice now finds itself in just such a can’t-miss scenario in its legal battle with Donald Trump over documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago.”

The reference to Omar Little from “The Wire” makes it even more obvious than it would otherwise be that Graham takes it for granted that the “rule of law” and “the Constitution,” which he claims are both at stake in the hopeful Trump prosecution, mean the equivalent of gang warfare. The Department of Justice to him is indistinguishable from the Department of Street Justice, and its business is not to enforce the law but to “go after the king.” I suspect he isn’t alone in this assumption.

Ironically, such people typically justify their anti-Trump vendetta by repeating the Watergate-era mantra that “no one is above the law.”

LOL, as the cartoon-fancying youngsters have taught us to write—in lieu, that is, of laughing out loud.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.