Is it time to stop infantilizing Trump?
One of the more common visual metaphors since President Donald Trump was elected — and a not-uncommon one throughout his candidacy — has been to depict him as a diapered crier as though, through cartoon hyperbole, he’s to be considered some sort of “boss baby.”
That comparison even came up while I was interviewing “Boss Baby” director Tom McGrath several weeks after the president’s inauguration, with McGrath noting that Alec Baldwin’s dual presence as his film’s title infant and a political impressionist on “Saturday Night Live” was giving his movie a nice little “Trump bump” of recognition.
That animated movie, which opened in March, arrived nearly four months after the Norwegian news site VG published a cartoon of baby Trump tugging on an American flag tablecloth, with a globe teetering on the edge. That illustration by Oslo artist Christian Bloom went so viral that it even spawned its own Snopes page on whether the work was really banned from Facebook and Twitter.
Verdict: It wasn’t.
And this isn’t just a matter of left-leaning visual critics. Images of Trump as a cranky crawler have streamed forth from all along the political spectrum, including deft work from the right-leaning cartoonists Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch. (And I must confess: I couldn’t help sketching him in a crib during a 2016 campaign debate.)
Yet now that Trump is seven months into his presidency and for the good of the republic must wrestle with civic fissures and global hot spots with the intellectual gravitas of someone wearing his big-boy pants, does it any longer illuminate matters to render him as the Diapered Donny?
For the sake of argument, let’s say that tired metaphor still applies. Then what’s the point of continuing to spit it up like so much satirical pablum? Perhaps it is so the caricature fully takes hold of the public imagination to the point that hyperbole begins to fuse with reality.
Humor, of course, can so often warp impressions. Satire is the sculpting clay that can change how we saw President Richard Nixon as having the perpetual 5-o’clock shadow of some crooked street mug, President Jimmy Carter as shrinking behind his smile as if some overmatched Cheshire cat, and Vice President Dan Quayle as playing politics like a rookie schoolboy in short pants and shorter on White House acumen.
So is it fair to deny cartoonists such a go-to arrow in their political quiver? Wouldn’t a continued onslaught of Diapered Donnies only further make the point?
Well, now that even Trump allies are reportedly describing him in “toddler in chief” terms, perhaps rendering the president as a screaming infant or an enfant terrible actually sheds no new light.
Sure, saber-rattling can readily be depicted as baby-rattling, but such a caricature can also minimize the weight of the president’s own words toward North Korea, Afghanistan or Charlottesville, Virginia.
Such times demand fresh metaphors. Especially when reading online, where we — like, famously, our leader — can have tiny attention spans.
Writer and artist Michael Cavna is creator of the “Comic Riffs” column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Washington Post’s Book World. He wrote this for The Washington Post.