Politics Unusual: Political Cartoons in the Age of Trump


Snap open any newspaper on any given day in 2017 and one’s eyes eventually find their way to a caricature of a certain elected-leader with a distinctive hairdo.

“He’s just so flamboyant and so captivating,” said cartoonist Jeff Danziger, who confessed to some Trump fatigue after months spent drawing the same man every day but also admitted that the new administration has left him wanting not for creative inspiration.

“No, you roll out of bed and somebody’s done something stupid, said something crazy,” he added.

Born into a family of artists and letter writers, Danziger started drawing cartoons in the margins of various documents as a child continuing through college and a tour in Vietnam, where he won both a Bronze Star and an Air Medal before returning to the United States and a job as political cartoonist for a local paper in Vermont.

“The first responsibility is to be amusing or humorous or interesting and the second responsibility is to be at least somewhat close to the facts,” Danziger said. “If it’s done right, it’s beyond language.”

“That’s why cartoonists around the world have been murdered,” Columbia University Professor Victor Navasky said. “In the Middle East, they’ve been thrown into prison.”

Publisher emeritus of The Nation, Navasky wrote “The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power.” He said caricature arrived in this country with the first settlers but flexed its influence most famously in the 1800s when lampooning New York City politician Boss Tweed, who failed to hide how much the cartoons bothered him.

“I don’t care what articles newspapers print about me but get rid of those damn pictures because my constituents can’t read but they can’t help seeing those damn pictures,” Navasky said of Tweed.

The influence of those pictures bestow upon the minds and pencils of the cartoonist a unique power, whether David Levine drawing Lyndon Johnson with a scar of Vietnam or Herblock showing a slimy, unshaven Richard Nixon emerging from a sewer.

“Nixon could never live that down,” Navasky said.

“We like these guys who are really amusing in themselves, because they set the joke up,” Danziger said. “Caricature is important but it’s not the only thing.”

And so the political and cultural ascendancy of Donald Trump and his wave of golden hair have ushered in a wealth of material and perhaps a golden age for political cartoonists.

Danziger, whose drawings run in major daily newspapers all around the world, pointed to the pullitzer-prize-winning cartoonist pat oliphant’s decision to un-retire at the age of 81.

“He’s the best there is and now he’s been lured back by Mr. Trump,” Danziger said.

“Images are more prevalent than ever and people have less attention spans,” Navasky said.

“They remain fun not only to see but it’s fun to do them,” Danziger said.