There’s nothing like an election to make you feel helpless, unless it’s an election in a foreign country where you don’t even get to vote.
Looking back I’m feeling relief, having survived Harper & Ford, endured Dubya, and the insults hurled at Obama, surely the finest President I’ve ever seen (even if you wouldn’t know it from the way the Houses obstructed him).
At one time I’d engage with an election via literature. There were the Making of the President books for 1960, ‘64 and ’68 (I think there were more but those were the only ones I looked at). There was Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
At one time I invested a lot of time in trying to figure out what had happened, both in the USA and here in Canada; at this point in my young life I relied on Peter C Newman for the PMs of our recent past (Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau) and Pierre Berton for history (wars and railroads, plus glimpses of John A Macdonald).
Times have changed. I don’t read the same sorts of books anymore, possibly because I don’t feel the same way about the process, certainly not since 2000 when the results broke my heart. In this millennium I have accepted the fact that it’s all beyond my ability to understand.
And this election, we’re in the midst of something surreal, and surely something we anticipated here in Toronto with the Mayoralty of Rob Ford. The similarities between Ford and Trump –and the rationale we hear from their supporters—never cease to amaze me, precisely because they sound so unshakeable. Never mind facts, when you’re part of a crusade you’re not working from empirical evidence so much as from something verging on the Biblical.
It’s funny because, oh my, I realize that I regressed a bit not so long ago, turning to a book for solace and meaning at a time of madness. Robyn Doolittle’s Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story was like a plumb line to help me find equilibrium when the news made me dizzy, confused, upset.
And I’ve instinctively done something similar in the latest book I bought, namely Gary Trudeau’s YUGE! While this is a collection of cartoons—that is, 30 years of the Doonesbury cartoons with Trump featured—and not a non-fiction book like all the others I mentioned, there is the same sense of a keen eye bearing witness, and thereby showing us which way is really up.
In prose accounts of elections that’s already a big deal, considering the mass of information that needs to be boiled down into something concentrated & concise. Yes the books I mention are hundreds of pages long, but they don’t feel long if they’re telling the right story. It’s insane really, that Trudeau’s book is out at this time (or feels insane, a book of cartoons eerily echoing those prose accounts of elections), except for one silly little fact: that the artist is so uncanny in his ability to capture the essence of Trump.
I used to read Doonesbury all the time, as I used to buy newspapers all the time. Doonesbury was a strip I knew and loved, not least because I like its politics and its keen eye for satire & American manners.
Fast forward to 2016, and my reunion with an old friend, or friends if I include Duke, BD, Zonker, Boopsie et al. But what’s uncanny is reading those old strips, with what I know now, aka the benefit of hindsight.
Reading the Donald Trump in Doonesbury having seen him explode into public consciousness through this election cycle and in his ongoing dissection in social media, I feel I know him and his tendencies very well. It’s amazing to see him skewered so accurately on Trudeau’s rapier-like pen. If he didn’t actually say the things attributed to him (that is, put in his mouth in the comic strip), I would surely expect him to say such things.
But let’s be clear. Trudeau’s Trump, especially in the early days is actually quite innocent, quite benign compared to what we see him doing in prime time in 2016. I am guessing that, as a left-leaning liberal, Trudeau would prefer to let him off the hook, or at least that’s how he portrayed him in the early days. The deeper you get into the book –and the closer to the present day—the more accurate it feels, and the darker the portrayal.
Each cartoon has its date of publication underneath, lending it additional authenticity. The back cover has an additional layer, being the most ironic endorsement you can imagine, namely a series of quotes from the real Trump, concerning Trudeau:
“Doonesbury, Doonesbury! Everybody’s asking me to respond to Doonesbury! People tell me I should be flattered”.
I hope Trudeau sells a lot of these books. In this reality TV show of a campaign, who better to chronicle the drama than a cartoonist?