Editorial: Editorial cartoons in the time of Trump

The first criteria: Is it funny?

Among my responsibilities as Opinion page editor for The Herald is selecting the editorial cartoons that run daily on the page.

Having grown up on the cartoons of Herbert Block — better known by his signature, Herblock — Pat Oliphant and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s David Horsey, all Pulitzer winners, I set a relatively high bar for the cartoons that The Herald publishes, typically one daily on Mondays through Fridays, six to seven on Saturdays and one or two on Sundays.

Along with a laugh — or some emotional impact if the subject isn’t one suitable for humor — I look for cartoons that clearly communicate an opinion on the issue the cartoon is satirizing, make the point with a fresh, original perspective and are well drawn. Those, of course, are subjective criteria, but that’s what guides the choice each day.

What doesn’t enter into the selection are my own political beliefs, though some readers might think otherwise, based on the editorial cartoons we have run regarding Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Herald has yet to run one positive Donald Trump cartoon. The reason is simple: There just aren’t any, at least not among those that The Herald receives from the two syndicates that we use, the Washington Post and Cagle Cartoons.

Daryl Cagle, a cartoonist whose syndicate offers a politically diverse selection of cartoons and opinion columns from about 80 contributors, said in a recent column that there is no range of views regarding Trump among the cartoonists he represents. The common view of The Donald is a negative one.

“Editorial cartoons are at their best when they make clear, graphic arguments on issues where there are different opinions and where minds can be swayed,” Cagle wrote. He doesn’t often see that in the Trump cartoons, he says, which too often go for easy and cliched metaphors.

In his commentary, Cagle brings up “Godwin’s Law,” which states that online discussions of any length will eventually deteriorate to the point where one side or the other is compared to Adolf Hitler. The problem with the work of many cartoonists during this campaign, Cagle says, is that the conversation started with comparisons of Trump to Hitler.

Another observer of editorial cartoons agrees there hasn’t been much range when it comes to Trump.

Jessica Albano, the microfilm and newspaper librarian at the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Libarary, has curated an exhibit of more than 200 editorial cartoons related to the 2016 presidential election. Using cartoons from a selection of the library’s newspaper collection, Albano and staff post a few of the best each day and collect others in a binder kept at the exhibit.

Along with following the race itself, the exhibit has posted cartoons addressing issues related to the campaigns, including recent mass shootings, terrorism, the Black Lives Matter protests and other controversies.

Included in the exhibit are cartoons by Horsey, now with the Los Angeles Times and Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both UW alumi.

The library has staged the exhibit during each presidential year since 2004, but it’s been a challenge, Albano said, to find some balance this year. The exhibit had favored cartoonists who are directly employed by newspapers, rather than those who are syndicated, but curators had to expand their search in an attempt to balance against the daily flood of Trump cartoons.

Not until recently, Albano said, have they seen a more steady supply of cartoons critical of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“It’s been hard. We don’t find many that are critical of them, both together,” she said. “But more are coming in on Hillary now.”

Albano sees value in the exhibit and in editorial cartoons, themselves. The exhibit gets its share of middle and high school students working on class assignments, and from others who are news and political junkies.

The cartoons, like late-night TV satirical shows, offer a quick and entertaining avenue into current events, the UW librarian said.

Albano and Cagle both have an interest in attempting to find balance in the cartoons they promote; they want to appeal to the widest audience possible. As does The Herald.

But, Donald Trump doesn’t make that task easy.

Those who admire him do so because he says what’s on his mind and isn’t politically correct. But those aren’t qualities that appeal to everyone, regardless of political beliefs.

Consider that in both cartoons and political commentaries some of Trump’s harshest critics are those who generally are recognized as conservatives and identify or at least often agree with the Republican Party.

Nobody would mistake Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post columnist whose columns run most Fridays in The Herald, for a liberal, but Krauthammer has lambasted Trump — and the Republicans who backed him — since early in the campaign.

And, as Trump has made clear recently, he’s not going to change who he is.

Don’t expect the cartoons to change, then, either.

— Jon Bauer, Opinion page editor

UW exhibit

“Editorial Cartoons: Election 2016” is on display at University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library in Seattle until Nov. 30.

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