Trump and Pence have parted ways in this story, and now Trump is left with the only person who really understands him. Don-Don, the little, stuffed Donald-Trump-looking doll whose face is contorted into a permanent yell.
Where do we go from here? Anywhere? Has this comic strip said all it needs to say? Do I want to continue to draw Trump? These are the questions I’m asking myself right now. I have not told a lot of the storylines that I thought I would tell when I first dreamed up this idea.
I wanted Trump to go to therapy and be under the care of a Latina psychologist; I wanted him to try to befriend black people; I wanted him to start an AM radio show about critical thinking. All of these ideas involve bringing in new characters, which is the most exciting prospect. Fifty comics that are laser focused on Trump can wear a fellow out.
In fact, maybe I could continue the comic strip and just call it After Trump, which is really the thing I’m concerned about. Trump can still be in the strip, but we could explore this whole time we’re in and the time we’re heading toward.
That’s what on my mind tonight. And even though today’s last panel just shows some randos that I made up to symbolize Americans sheltering in place and watching the Presidential Inauguration, it was exhilarating to get to draw someone new!
Does anyone call Trump “Don” or “Donald”? It’s hard to imagine. Trump is on record as loving when people call him “sir” or “mister president,” so I don’t see why he should change his mind just because he’s no longer president.
Now that it is Inauguration Day in this comic strip, we can bid farewell to the lame duck period. Mike “Bible Mike” Pence is going his own way to preach his message of hope and comfort to the masses. What’s next for Trump?
One answer to that question could be “nothing.” Drawing 49 comics from one storyline has been a great experience for me, and I am happy with the product. That said, I don’t know how much time I want to spend thinking about and drawing Trump, and it’s not like Trump After Trump has blown up to a point where people would be sad to see it go.
For now, I’m writing and drawing, working toward closure. But, as my friend Sean advised, I’ll be sure not to kill Trump off just in case I find that y’all want more Trump After Trump.
Trump Is Under Stress and Could Use a Healing Message
I hope this comic strip doesn’t set up an expectation that something is going to happen with the box. I drew it to symbolize that Trump is heading out of office soon, now that it’s January 21 in Trump After Trump world.
If the document box is, in fact, a gun in the first act that fails to fire by the final act, at least it jumps off the table in the last panel.
As for the content of this comic, I love using Trump as a vessel for all that I find distasteful about the excessive pursuit of profit. And I think I’ll leave it there. Cheers!
Trump Understands His White, Evangelical Christian Supporters
My Trump loves the letter “T”, and – regardless of what he learns about the cross and its symbolic power – he prefers to see the letter “T” when he encounters crosses as necklaces, tattoos, car stickers, etc.
Pence will soon be moving on to his post-politics life; so, without him as a Christian foil in the comic strip, I look forward to moving on to writing about Trump’s shortcomings as a leader rather than playing in the gulf between Trump as a public figure and his Great White Wall of support from American evangelical Christians.
One of my favorite experiences raising a secular family is when my daughter was little and pointed out the window as we were driving through suburban Las Vegas. “Look! That building has a “T” on top of it!” That is not a direct quote, but I hope the paraphrasing captures her excitement at seeing a letter of her recently-mastered alphabet perched on top of a big building.
And that was the day that she learned what a cross was and what it meant.
So, I return to the fertile cartooning ground of making fun of the gap between Trump and his evangelical base. For someone as egomaniacal and apparently unreligious (at least in his public behavior) as Trump, I wouldn’t be surprised if he recognized his supporters’ crosses as the “T” that indicates Trump enthusiasm.
I hope there is a broad and public reckoning over white Christian support for someone who personifies the opposite of their professed values over the years of the Religious Right.
In the meantime I will make cartoon jokes about that contradiction and hope I’m not the only one laughing.
Trump, Pence and Don-Don Toast 2020, an Unforgettable Year
I am committed to pre-celebration.
Trump After Trump started as a way for me to do a sort of visualization therapy: I imagined the end of the Trump presidency and watched him withdraw from the public eye during the lame duck period, which is not exactly in character, so I tried to keep his need for control and his narcissism on full display.
I still hope very much that he does, in fact, withdraw from the public, but I am not optimistic. We’ll see.
In any case, I have enjoyed spending the past 4 months in a future, fictional lame duck period. And now, with this comic, I am dispatching 2020 early, and moving into 2021. The memes have been declaring 2020 a year that we definitely won’t miss, so lets just get it over with!
Another Christmas Episode: Pence Gives Don-Don His Gift
It was a revelation to invent Don-Don, the little, stuffed version of Trump with yellow yarn hair and a perpetual yell on his face. And, because of how much fun I have with Don-Don, it’s hard not to just make little toy versions of everyone, but today I make an exception.
Wouldn’t it be cool to make fabric doll versions of each of the nine Supreme Court justices? I don’t want to go there in real life, but I like the results in ink.
Today’s comic speaks for itself, I think. I get feedback from time to time that suggests that my comics are not delivering the meaning that I think I’m crafting; but that is a big part of why I’m drawing Trump After Trump: I want to get better at the unique and super-fun language of cartooning.
Introducing Father Michael, the Reinvented Mike Pence
Saul had his moment of transformation on the road to Damascus. Anakin was christened Darth Vader by Emperor Palpatine, who himself is also known as Darth Sidious. Natalie dumps Scott Pilgrim and soon emerges as the Clash at Demonhead frontwoman Envy Adams.
Renaming a character is often part of a greater physical and spiritual transformation. When Mike Pence retires from politics and relaxes for the first time in decades, he grows a spontaneous, full, bushy white beard and seems to be stepping into a new role as an ancient prophet.
I drew and inked this on Election Night 2020 in the United States. Biden has gone to bed and told us to keep the faith. Trump is about to step out and speak to supporters. There is no outcome to this election yet, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have some fun with the Pence and Trump characters that I’ve been exploring for the past, like, five months.
In fact, the kind of political stress we are feeling at this moment is the reason I started this comic in the first place. This comic is a fictional road map for the actual Donald Trump to conduct himself in the event of a loss. And here are the steps:
make a nice concession call to Joe Biden
spend the lame duck period being self-centered instead of sowing confusion, doubt and resistance
Whether Trump wins or loses this election, I nurture a hope that he might one day – the sooner the better – recede from public life and move on to other interests that don’t include whipping Americans into a divisive, partisan frenzy.
I am writing this on October 31, 2020, on a physically-distant Halloween. On this day of candy, horror films and minimal trick-or-treaters expected, it’s funny to have spent the last week in the headspace of Christmas in a fictional Oval Office, where apparently Trump and Mike Pence spend the morning exclusively in each other’s company. But, comic universes are sometimes compressed for simplicity.
Today’s strip plays around some more with Mike Pence’s Christian identity and public image. It’s also fun to exploit what I see as the large gap between white Christian support of Trump and his words and behaviors which are not Christian in any way that I’m familiar with from my upbringing.
Also, if we have a heavily-bearded Pence now, why not just go all in and make him one of those Sunday School worksheet Bible men!
Did you know that these Sunday, full-color strips take me as much time and energy as it takes to make the 6 preceding black-and-white, four-panel strips? I wonder if I need to streamline, and make the Sunday edition smaller. It’s worth pondering. Every three weeks, I spend about seven days worth of mornings, evenings and weekends making these colorful monsters. I hope they appear easy and fun to you, and that I’ve left not a trace of the labor it takes to put one of these together.
Christmas is two months away at the time that I’m publishing this comic, but it is only four days away in the timeline of this comic strip. So the question isn’t “Why are you already doing a Christmas comic?” but “What has taken you so long to do a Christmas comic if your comic strip is currently taking place in December?”
The first three panels of this strip wrote themselves, but the punchline was hard to write. In the end, I feel like I got to the heart of what I wanted to say – whether or not it’s funny is for you to decide.
And what I wanted to address is how the ideas of Americans coming together, listening to experts, considering evidence and being humble and graceful as we tackle our problems do not seem like things that Americans are likely to do right now. Moreover, I think it’s funny that Don-Don’s wish would be nonsensical to Trump, and that Pence would frame coming together as everyone becoming Christian. I remember being a Christian teen and having similar thoughts: if only every person in the world would just accept Jesus and become Christian, then we would all get along, etc.
Also, if Don-Don is a doll where exactly is his Christmas wish coming from? Is it a subconscious voice deep in Trump’s brain? Is Don-Don real? Is it destined to be a mystery?
Stubble Tells Them You’re Manly and Know How to Cut Loose
There are plenty of times when an aspiring artist feels self-doubt as they continue to stay up late and wake up early in order to create their obscure artwork. One of the great balms for this angst is cracking yourself up.
When I wrote the last panel for this comic, it made me laugh for four days before I finally drew it. By that time, I felt like Mozart: I wasn’t drawing the bearded Pence for the first time; I was simply copying down the drawing from my brain, where it lived, complete and funny.
In therapy, I have talked about the strange resistance I feel sometimes about doing the very thing that I identify so closely with. When the day’s other work is done, and I can sit down and draw, I would feel this aversion to the work, even though I feel the calling to be an artist. In talking through this problem, I decided that I was repelled by the studio because I was putting too much pressure on myself to succeed, and I was buckling under the self-imposed weight of success before I picked up a pencil.
And, therapy is so great because it can lead you to the obvious conclusion that you might not be able to reach on your own. In this case, I chose not to come to the studio to succeed, but to enjoy the moment-to-moment process of creating something. That is what I do now.
So, to bring it all back, the self-doubt slips back into the shadows when I write or draw something that I think is funny. I hope you find some of it funny, too.
Everyone loves tiny things, right? Tiny houses. Tiny dancers. Tiny Tims. Shoot, NPR even has that awesome Tiny Desk concert series! Which brings us to today’s strip.
In celebrating all things tiny, I introduced Don-Don a few weeks ago. He is a little doll version of Trump, and, in spite of his essence-of-angry-sour-Trump face, Trump just loves him. The resemblance is more important to Trump than the fact that Don-Don is not a flattering likeness.
Now we have a tiny Resolute Desk, too! The famous Resolute Desk has been the desk of choice for most presidents since it was gifted to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 by Queen Victoria. For half of this country’s history it has been a symbol of the U.S. presidency, a tradition, part of the institution of the office. So it is all the more incongruent to have Trump spend four years sitting at the Resolute Desk, iconoclast that he is.
But, as we’ve known about Trump for decades, he’s the kind of guy who loves being seen with the trappings of power and wealth. And if there is going to be a tiny Trump in his life, then he’s going to need his own tiny Resolute Desk, too.
I think the second panel of today’s comic is one of my favorites that I’ve drawn. So I’m just going to enjoy that for a minute before I figure out what to write for the next comic…
One way to illustrate a dysfunctional White House is to have the president order the vice-president to assemble a toy for his doll.
One way to illustrate the unfortunate American (and human) love affair with authority is to have a top-ranking government official dutifully do what he’s told, regardless of how irrelevant the task is to citizens and how self-serving it is to the president.
My aspiration for this comic strip as a whole is for it to address problems with human nature, morality and government. Artists, however, can hardly evaluate how successful their art is; we need public feedback for that. And public feedback is hard to come by when your publishing outlet is the internet, where billions of pieces of content are competing for people’s attention each day, much of that content much more targeted to appeal to people than a comic strip like Trump After Trump.
These are my reflections this morning as I publish my 38th comic strip and wonder what it is doing in the world beyond me.
What More Could Pence Hope to Accomplish in Politics?
I continue to joke about the hypothetical future where American conservatives get everything they want. One of my favorite Onion pieces – it’s so hard to pick a favorite, so this is just one of many – is the headline from January 1, 2000, “Christian Right Ascends To Heaven.” The satirical news story that follows is set in my hometown of Tulsa, OK.
Fiction is great for thought experiments. It can be funny and thought-provoking to play out a fringe group’s having all of its dreams come true. In the case of this little story arc, Jesus has not come to take Pence home, but the next best thing has happened: abortion has finally been banned. What will he do now?
Writing the headline above came naturally to me as someone who was raised in Oklahoma, going to different churches depending on the weekend, and as someone who currently lives in suburban Dallas. But, not everyone may know the colloquial meaning of “praying about” something.
To say, “Pence has been praying about something,” means that he has been wrestling with a decision in his mind, trying to find the best solution.
In Trump After Trump, Pence is how I explore religion – particularly (and obviously) American protestant Christianity – both personally and politically. Sometimes the things he says surprise me. Having this Christian character in the comic strip makes me unearth ideas, memories, turns of phrase and images from my time as a young Oklahoma Christian. I think the exploration of this part of my past and my identity is fun and beneficial, personally, and I hope that it resonates to some extent with you, too.
I feel like Don-Don may soon be Trump’s closest companion – in this strip – replacing Mike Pence for the time being. I think Pence might be moving on to the next chapter of his life, soon.
Also, it’s strange writing a comic strip about Trump set in the near future. In the real world, we’ve just lived through the strange week of Trump coming down with COVID, getting VIP treatment for it, and returning to public activity with an ostentatious show of strength.
Meanwhile, in Trump After Trump, Trump is still waiting out the lame duck period and has never had COVID-19. I don’t know if he’s going to get it in this story or not. He has been very isolated. The only other characters to appear in this strip are:
Biden, over the phone
Don-Don, the stuffed doll
So, as opposed to real life, Trump’s social circle here is very narrow. At this point, he’s not looking like someone who’s going to get the ‘Rona.
But, I still have near infinite opportunities to explore narcissism and all the other flavors of his character!
The way things have been going in 2020 – during what really feels like will be the final year of the Trump era – why not have the Senate confirm Trump’s nominee and then have the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade on the same day?
One of the bad things about the Trump era is that fact surpasses satire. It’s all just too much. Sometimes the ultimate satirical outlet The Onion simply prints what happened. That is a sign that things are not good in the United States of America: in order to satirize American politics you simply do straight reporting.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Trump After Trump is going to explore this speculative universe where Trump is no longer president and has to decide what to do and who to be. Sometimes I feel like the most transgressive thing this comic strip could do would be to show Trump becoming a better person, because it just seems impossible for him to go there. It would be the equivalent of The Onion doing straight reporting in order to satirize the present.
In any case, I’m ready to get this storyline out of the presidency and into the post-presidency era. I’m pacing it the best I can at this point, but I’m definitely open to suggestions…
I liked this remembrance that Chief Justice John Roberts gave in a ceremony after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020.
“Justice Ginsburg’s life was one of the many versions of the American dream. Her father was an immigrant from Odessa. Her mother was born four months after her family arrived from Poland. Her mother later worked as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn. Ruth used to ask, ‘What is the difference between a bookkeeper in Brooklyn and a Supreme Court justice?’ Her answer: ‘One generation.’”
That line from Ginsburg is heart-warming, because it reminds me of the American dream of upward mobility that is inspirational and, according to the data, inaccurate. A person’s racial, class and caste background makes that climb harder: the ladder rungs are farther apart, brittle, and there may not be someone there to catch you when you fall.
However, hearing RBG talk about achieving what she did from her humble beginnings is legitimately inspirational, because she was aware of how social and legal forces act against less privileged American groups; and she dedicated her life to using her mind to help people by addressing shortcomings in the law.
Let’s be optimistic in the face of all of the challenges we’re facing right now: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many like her dedicate their lives to helping Americans have equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s not forget that it takes people working hard to make it possible for more bookkeeper’s daughters to climb like RBG did.
A Highly Motivated Supreme Court Nominee With a Clean Record
I don’t have a lot to say about today’s strip. Just that I’m enjoying the absurd alternate reality of a lameduck Trump nominating a fetus for the Supreme Court. Not only is there the typical rush to confirm for political reasons, but they want the Senate seal of approval fast before the fetus is born and becomes a baby!
Looking at two ultrasound prints of two different fetuses is kind of like selecting a nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Ultrasounds are grainy and low-res. The little outlines suggest the shape of a little human, but the image tells us mostly nothing about who that person might be, how they might behave, what they might do in the future.
So, we project our hopes and dreams, our biases and prejudices, onto that blurry black-and-white image. One day, will this person make a game-winning three pointer or graduate with honors or cast the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade? We don’t know.
Trump compares these two ultrasound images looking for anything to distinguish them. And, as we all do, we find what we seek.
And what are ultrasounds? A white image created by sound bouncing off the bone and tissue of the fetus. Trump notes that one of the images is whiter than the other, which means that more sound has reached the fetus and kertwanged right off, where the ultrasound machine reads that signal as whiteness.
Reminds me of the problem of whiteness in the U.S. For many of us, sounds reach us and then bounce right back off, unheard. Have I finally introduced race into this comic strip??? Or did I do it before and just forget… Well, it’s about time. There is so much to say.
Need a Young, Pro-Life Supreme Court Justice? Think Huge.
I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I can think of that I’ve seen an ultrasound drawn in a comic strip. They’re grainy and low-fi as it is – translating that to ink on paper is a tricky endeavor.
I guess I’m having it both ways in this comic strip right now. Today, September 26, 2020, we’re in full Supreme Court mania in the U.S., but I’ve set this comic strip on December 7, 2020, after a Biden win in November. So, the chronology is off, but the spirit is similar: we’re dealing with a Supreme Court nomination during an election period.
I think the story works, even though I’m using a story set in the future to talk about current events.
Trump wouldn’t be the first sad case to find true companionship with someone who can’t speak for themselves. There’s definitely the fascinating question of the extent to which we bond with our pets versus how much we project onto them. Trump doesn’t strike me as a pet owner – you have to do things to keep them alive and healthy. How does that make him money or polish his reputation?
But, what if he had a doll, like Don-Don? No feeding, no trips to the vet, no walks or litterbox maintenance. All you have to do is have someone run Don-Don through the laundry from time to time, and you’re good.
And, Don-Don is the perfect person to listen to Trump, because Don-Don has no ears or language-processing capabilities.
Trump and His Best Bud Don-Don Say Their Night-Night Prayers
I wrote this comic to explore more of the gap between Pence’s Christian faith and Trump’s amoral narcissism. But, when I started drawing, Trump needed to look more like he was ready for bed time.
I dressed him in gold silk, T-covered pajamas, then considered having him hold a stuffed elephant. Trump has never been a big party loyalist – his biggest loyalty being to himself – so Don-Don the stuffed, little Donald Trump doll just emerged from my pencil. I started laughing, and the strip immediately was at risk of being completely hijacked by this little orange guy with yellow yarn hair!
I’m going to enjoy seeing how Don-Don adds to this world. Frankly, he is much needed: thinking about Donald Trump every day for this comic strip is taking a toll on me, so a little toy Trump should help open up the world a bit.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, Trump and Pence hang out on the Truman Balcony and reflect on all they’ve accomplished in their brief four years. In an effort to make America great again – that apparently effective phrase of turning the clock back to a mythical past – their administration has put a lot of energy into undoing what many of us consider to be important achievements.
To take environmental protection as just an example, the Trump administration has reversed 74 environmental regulations in under four years, according to the Brookings Institute. While there is room for intelligent debate about the costs and benefits of specific environmental regulations to business and to civilization, when you step back and see how much environmental protection has been undone since 2017, it is sobering.
Just looking at clean air, let’s say climate change is 100% a hoax. (It’s not.) If we were to continue to be aggressive about keeping our air clean and using regulations to hold industrial polluters accountable for clean air, we could save lives and dollars. Lots of lives and lots of dollars.
In 2016, many publications, including Time magazine, reported on a World Bank finding that air pollution kills between 3 and 5 million people a year. Moreover, cleaning up the air globally would save the world economy $225 billion a year.
So, if you have a partisan motivation to deny climate change, which may, in turn, motivate you to support environmental deregulation – don’t worry! You can go ahead and support regulating industry to help clean our air and save the health, well-being and lives of millions of people, AND you can save trillions of dollars over the years! What is unconservative about that?
But, back to Trump, this information is of no use to him. To Trump, being business-friendly means removing money-making barriers from the world’s biggest polluters and externalizing the cost of doing business to the rest of us.
In this way, Trump is very much like a mob boss. Sure, what he does is morally wrong and hurts a lot of innocent people, but he makes money and takes care of his family. Isn’t that what we romanticize in The Godfather, The Sopranos, etc?
Do we take care of our own no matter the harm it causes others, or can we do better?
Call Names and Rewrite History – It’s What Winners Do
Trump seems like a person who acts on raw instinct more than premeditated thought, so maybe today’s comic isn’t that plausible. Like a plant that turns away from shadow and toward the sun, Trump uses language intuitively to distance himself from the perception of failure and to associate himself with anything worth taking credit for.
“All politicians do this,” one might rightly say. But, as we often overlook in the name of tribal, political affiliation, it’s a matter of degree. Trump turns it to eleven. As in 2016, when people didn’t know who to vote for because Hillary and Trump were both seen as undesirable candidates. Really? Given the choice, what would you rather eat, an overripe, smashed, brown banana, or a turd? Neither is a great option, but one is clearly worse than the other.
And presidents certainly take credit and shirk blame for things as they can. They inherit recessions and wars caused by their predecessors, for example. But Trump is unprecedented in his brazen historical revision.
P.S. An apology to all the plants out there who take offense to my analogy comparing them to Trump. I love plants.
COVID Joe, a Nickname Masterpiece, a Prediction of Historical Revision
I wonder how long it would take Trump to start blaming COVID fallout on Biden, if Biden were to take office in 2021.
I also wonder if these jokes are funny only to one person. In this case, I laugh at Pence reading the Bible every chance he gets and Trump holding the phone close to his face and using the remind function on a smartphone to make sure he doesn’t neglect something important.
I also wonder, “What’s going on in this comic strip? Like, big picture?” I feel like these strips add up to a sense that, in a lame-duck presidency, there isn’t much to do but wait around for your predecessor to redecorate the Oval Office and give you the friendly boot. I’m sure presidents find plenty to do with the three or so months between election and inauguration, but it’s more fun this way.
Waiting around, killing time, starting companies that sell face masks, inventing killer nicknames and hashtags.
Don’t you love images of older folks crowding around a cell phone?
I think the size of our readership here at Trump After Trump is not quite at that tipping point where we can get people everywhere to start calling Trump “COVID Don,” but maybe if I make two comic strips in a row on the subject, that will help…
So, what do we have here? Older gentlemen squished together looking at a phone, some silly close-ups of Trump’s exaggerated facial expressions (I didn’t have to invent much – he does so much of the work for the artist) and more humor at the expense of what we presume to be Pence’s sensitivity to adult content.
At some point I really need to push this story past January 20, 2021, so we can really see what Trump might be like after the Trump administration…
Trump minimizes and bullies people by giving them diminishing nicknames. “Lyin’ Ted.” “Crooked Hillary.” “Low Energy Jeb.” No need to get into the details about his mastery of manipulative oration.
One way to win is to always be the one who stoops lowest. I don’t think anyone would say that going low is honorable, ethical or good for the republic; but, as Trump is demonstrably amoral, what does he care about honor, ethics or the common good? Power is his currency, and power is conveniently amoral, too.
So, I wonder if he’s ever surprised that people don’t stoop to his own bully tactics to try to beat him. My guess is he doesn’t care, because he knows he will always go lower. Honestly, if anyone else were president right now he’d be calling them “COVID [name]” all day, every day.
I have gotten a little feedback that my comics present Trump as a lovable buffoon. So that leaves me asking myself questions, and here are two of them:
Are we so used to seeing negative portrayals of Trump that are so extremely monstrous that my attempt to show him as a horrible human being are too subtle?
Are my attempts to portray Trump with nuance and subtlety not working?
My instinct is to remember that people – no matter how awful the things they say and do – are human beings and not monsters. My upbringing in the Episcopal church helped nurture my compassionate worldview and, ironically, influenced my eventual embrace of secularism and humanism over the conservative Christianity I was raised with.
But, that’s just where I’m coming from – it doesn’t mean my comics are any good. What I need to do is make sure my portrayals of Trump are neither glib about his negative impact on the world nor cowardly about telling it like it is.
As a cartoonist, I want my comics to show that even with subtlety and nuance, Trump is still a bad human being who is bringing out the worst in a lot of people and seriously harming what decent moral standing the United States still has in the world.
Back to Blaming Hillary
Since I was a young conservative person in Oklahoma, I have been aware of the thriving, multimillion-dollar industry built around loathing Hillary Clinton. When I was younger, it seemed kind of mean. Certainly un-Christian. But as I got older and watched the industry achieve its ultimate goal of keeping Hillary out of power in 2016, this anti-Hillary movement became for me a symbol of many troublesome things about slices of American culture – sexism, male fragility, rage at the diminishing role of traditional Christianity in American life, demonizing those who disagree with you, scapegoating…
So, my hope is that Trump loses in November 2020, but, sadly, I expect that he will likely pick up where he left off with bullying everyone he can, including ol’ Hillary. (Not that she is a blameless victim herself, but, come on, can’t we do better than enabling the empire of Hating Hillary?)
You’ve got to hand it to Trump: he has a face that can be entrancing in its ability to contort and display emotion. If Trump were a mime (and imagine a world where we didn’t have to hear him speak…) his body and facial language would put him at the top of the mime hierarchy. He would win miming. Because he is a winner.
Also, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, who else sees a Pence/Scott 2024 GOP ticket? Can you imagine how persuasive that would be to American conservatives? Pence, the sturdy white Christian man who helped white evangelicals feel like they could publicly support Trump, and the man who will still have Trump’s stench on him so that the MAGA constituency will still vote. Tim Scott, the sturdy black Republican senator who made a passionate case for Trump 2020? Seriously, this is a strong ticket.
It’s strange what circumstance will do to your outlook. If you’d asked me five years ago, the idea of an evangelical Christian as vice president would not exactly have shocked me, but I wouldn’t have taken much comfort from it either. Now that we’ve been living in a world with a president who handles American institutions and values so haphazardly, I have come to see Pence as a voice of decency and even reason.
So, in the brief evolution of my comic strip, it was natural for Pence to become Dean Martin to Trump’s Jerry Lewis. I think it’s funny to give Pence a chance to try on Trump’s cartoonishly angry face and mob boss public persona.
Also, we finally have a strip with a full-black background in a panel! The constraints of the four-panel comic make little moments like this exciting for me. How much can a person do with four (usually) black and white drawings? Each cartoonist is on her own little journey to find out.
I wouldn’t be surprised if face masks that feature Trump’s face already exist; I didn’t check, because for me it’s beside the point whether they exist or not. And I don’t want the comic to be influenced too much by stuff that’s already out there. I think Bill Watterson said that he resisted looking up reference photos when drawing dinosaurs because he was after something bigger than accuracy. I’m paraphrasing big time, and I’m not looking up that quote either, for the same reason!
I like joking about Trump’s narcissism, but it’s just as fun to explore evangelical attitudes as I lived them when I was a kid growing up in the Bible Belt during the Satanic Panic 80s. Mike Pence may or may not share these views, but the Pence in Trump After Trump embodies what I see as the American evangelical’s strange blend of piety and naïveté.
But all of this is just a setup to get to a joke about Trump’s most reliable source of political support, which is the white evangelical. I grew up as an Oklahoma Christian, so this fact about the support base of our amoral, divisive president is both disappointing and not surprising, which is a great source of comic strip punchlines!
One of my top five novels of all time it The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. This book is so good that my friend Sean and I both read it twice in a row. If you want to hear more about why it’s such a wonderful book, just read it; I bring it up today because there is a scene in the book that I just love, which inspired this comic.
A colonial-era Dutch ship captain has taken his gout down to the ship surgeon for some symptom relief. The captain’s foot is swollen and tender, and the surgeon prepares a draft for relief. When the captain suggests that Mr. Nash, the surgeon, should consider turning apothecary when they reach the shore, we read this:
“Men of commerce, sir”–Nash counts out laudanum drops into the pewter beaker–“for the most part, had their consciences cut out at birth. Better an honest drowning than slow death by hypocrisy, law, or debt.”
What a searing and pithy summation of the blinding-influence that profiteering can have on otherwise compassionate people! I consider Trump, at best, amoral, and whether the soul-corruption led to a life of chasing dollars and attention or the other way around, I find Nash’s attitude to be on the nose.
I said as much as I have to say right now about masking in the age of COVID-19 and the age of Trump in Trump After Trump no. 15.
On an entirely different note, the practice of daily cartooning is making it painfully clear to me that drawing your characters so that they look the same in each strip – in each panel, for that matter – takes a lot of practice. Way more practice than I have put in, apparently.
My hope for now is that you, my small, scrappy cohort of readers, will bear with me, and maybe even find some charm in the clearly hand-made and aspirational quality of my likenesses!
I’ve made “two weeks” worth of comics – I publish every three days but pretend that I’m creating a highly-syndicated daily – and have not acknowledged that we are all living in a historic and life-changing pandemic. I think the first I heard of the new coronavirus (which has had me working remotely for the past six months) was around Christmas 2019 when there was a news story about an epidemic in China. I did not pay much attention to it, and my guess is that I imagined masked Asian faces and moved on.
That image of masked people in Asia, from memories of the SARS and MERS epidemics, is something I think about these days because I realize that mask-wearing seemed to me like an Asian practice, not something that Americans do. Now that the pandemic continues to batter America, I am wearing my mask, along with most of the people in my community, and I am happy that there is a cheap, easy and effective way to slow the spread. But, I think back to my pre-COVID-19 feeling that wearing masks is something that Asian people do, and I recognize in myself the individualistic spirit that has so defined American history and culture since the Europeans arrived here. It goes something like, “Asian people do what their governments say, but Americans do what we want, damn it!”
I am thankful that the vast majority of Americans support and practice masking, and I also feel disappointed that American individualism contains a strain of egotism and disregard for others. The rhetoric of people who decry mask-wearing as an incursion on their personal freedom and another example of tyrannical government overreach is a bummer. Also, what I just said about American individualism and its egotistical and selfish facets reminds me of someone…
Trump’s public statements and actions about the pandemic say all that needs to be said about the shortcomings of American individualism. So, I give you a “week” of face mask gags!
One of the themes of the Trump era is the overwhelming support that he enjoys from American evangelical Christians, among whom we usually include Mike Pence. Encouragingly, there is also a fun strain of satire that looks at this very odd coupling between an amoral man and a community for whom morality is a core value. One of my favorite genres of this satire is the joke about Trump and the Bible
I will probably write more of these. It’s a great opportunity to use Trump as a way to interpret the Bible in ways that the text supports but that are not the conventional American Christian interpretation.
My goal in the larger story of this comic strip is not to make Trump an adorable, silly cartoon that we can all laugh off, because I don’t want to let him off the hook for the terrible impact he has had on the welfare of vulnerable populations, the environment and climate, race relations, science, and so on. But, to have an interesting villain, sometimes he is going to more like us than we are comfortable with, so there will always be a little of me in him. And the secular history and interpretation of the Bible is an interest of mine, so sometimes that will be channeled through the very unlikely mouthpiece of comic Trump!
Picking up where strip no. 12 left off, Trump reacts to the news that he may have been acting as part of a bigger plan, and he does not like that one bit. This man is nobody’s pawn; no hand but his own guides his actions in this world. Divine intervention is foreign intervention, and Trump will not tolerate such violations of American sovereignty.
This strip offered a chance to draw Mike Pence with shocked manga eyes!
Wardrobe change! Putting on a different outfit can really get you in the right mood, so Trump has sent his suits to the cleaners and now dresses to channel his inner Jimmy Buffet. When he closes his eyes he sees sea gulls, smells salt water surf and hears steel drums. I would love to see Trump in a beach hat, but it would mess up his hair.
If some of these comics have Pence playing the Dean Martin straight man to
Trumps’s Jerry Lewis, there is another fun storyline to explore: Pence the evangelical Christian politician who sees his position in the executive branch as part of god’s plan, no matter how extreme the contrast between Pence and Trump. In fact, from a strictly Christian perspective, “the idea of Trump being part of god’s plan for America is so crazy,” I imagine Christians thinking, “that it just might work.”
My main objective with today’s strip is to make my own version of Charlie Brown writing a letter to the little red-haired girl. Charles Schultz’s work is the landmark that so many cartoonists aspire to. His drawing, writing and characterization are so rich and simple at the same time, and today’s comic won’t be the last time I tell my story with the help of Charles’s inspiration.
The 4-panel comic strip trope of having a character make an observation in the final panel – more or less directly to the reader – is another challenge I set myself in this comic. In trying to become a real cartoonist, you ought to try every trick and tool that’s out there!
I get the feeling that the term “executive order” must be music to Trump’s ears. And he totally is the kind of guy who is seduced by the trappings of wealth and power. These are the themes that inform a lot of this “week’s” comics.
We’ve been wrong before about who is likely to win and to lose an American presidential election. Nevertheless, the Trump After Trump comic strip is a thought experiment in imagining how Trump might react to losing the November 2020 election. I do think that for a man whose brand is “winning,” eleven weeks of lame duck status would be unbearable.
There are many people who think that getting Trump out of the White House can’t happen soon enough, and Trump himself could turn out to be the person who wants more than anyone to get hims out of Washington D.C. ASAP.
The third panel of this comic feels like a little metaphor for Trump’s impact on the world: he waves around the symbols of power and wealth without any awareness that he may be whacking other people – even his own vice president – in the face.
Part of the romance of American history is the idea of the power of the pen. We revere our founding documents and the imagery of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence being peneed by an ink-dipped feather quill.
Trump is not immune to this fascination with quill and parchment, and I’m sure he would love a photo op of him wielding a huge feather pen while he drafts something of great consequence. But, if he were to find himself with a fancy pen, wouldn’t it be funny if something less dignified occurred?
Today’s comic strip is not just a tickling gag, but also a meditation on the very well put-together, very patient Mike Pence, who has suffered being Second Banana to the Big Orange for three and a half years. If he is the level-headed, god-loving man that he appears to be, perhaps he sees himself is a modern day Job, called to endure indignities and suffering so that god can make a point.
I don’t know what point that would be, but maybe Mike does.
In this universe, Trump wants out of office just as much as the electorate who voted against him in November 2020. Of course, I’m making today’s strip in the summer of 2020, so the election has not happened yet. We’re just imagining here, which I find cathartic. After years of making abstract paintings and other traditional art objects, here I am doing art therapy and having a blast!
I originally imagined Trump drafting executive orders on his cell phone, written in the same voice as his Twitter pronouncements. But, as you’ll see in strip no. 9 he ends up using something that is much more fun to draw and (I hope) more fun to look at, too.
As Trump sees it, why be a lame duck when you can just executive-order yourself down to Florida?
The real Trump’s communication style evokes the sleazy salesman. In this first full-color “Sundy” strip, Trump takes us on a showing of the White House, which is just the kind of luxurious property than he can sell with his real estate schtick.
It is true that the real Biden is no stranger to luxury homes, in spite of his working class street cred. The idea of Trump and Biden bonding over the mansion that is the White House is funny and, I think, totally plausible.
Since Trump is not known for adhering to – or even being aware of – governing norms, I just love the idea of his not knowing about the lame duck period between election night and inauguration day, some eleven weeks later. And who better to fill him in on the gist of the 20th Amendment than his replacement?
Trump Is Too Good at Being President to Waste Time Reading
One of the real Trump’s most distressing behaviors is his anti-science attitude, seen in his espousal of anti-vaccination ideas and his related promotion of conspiracy theories.
Even if you want to be charitable and suggest he does not personally believe these ideologies of mistrust, his readiness to deploy them in his public communication is concerning. Science and critical thinking have enough trouble gaining currency in the broad American conversation; having the president undermine trust in science and evidence just makes it harder to manage our Enlightenment-based republic.
The real Trump does, however, use science as a way to bolster his appearance of strength: he likes NASA, for example. And that is the attitude he takes in this comic. He makes a vague attribution to something official that supports his claim that he is just too awesome, but of course he hasn’t read it! (Vague attribution is also a hallmark of Trump’s communication style.)
When Trump Calls to Concede an Election, Guess Who He Talks About
Now that Biden has returned Trump’s phone call to concede the 2020 election, Trump has stopped feeling insulted and can now luxuriate in talking about himself.
You know the people who steer conversation so readily back to themselves and their exploits? It’s fun to write a character who loves to talk about himself and fails completely to show interest in his listener. I know I’ve been guilty of that, myself, but I try to overcome my own ego and be a good listener, which, it turns out, is more interesting and less predictable than running your own mouth all the time. Blowing the idiot wind.
So, when I’m writing this character, I don’t just hear Trump’s voice but the voices of people in my life who only want to talk and hear about themselves. And, I’ll tell you, it feels kind of good, maybe even therapeutic.
I think a lot of voters hoped that Pence would be the voice of faith in this White House, and that may be the case. I also imagine him as a voice of reason, one of many people who can try to advise Trump away from his erratic instincts.
When Trump sees that Biden is calling back, his ego is immediately sated, and now he wants to mess with the new president-elect.
When you’re frustrated by someone not answering or returning your calls, you can always turn to Twitter. “He may not be answering, but SOMEONE is going to hear me!”
When reading people’s posts on social media, you can usually hear the tone of voice that goes with it. I often hear Trump’s posts as a yell, and I imagine the moment of his composing the Tweets as an actual yell that must be alarming for the people near him. Whether or not this is what, in fact, happens is a question for the journalist, not the cartoonist.
Mike Pence made his first appearance in the last strip, no. 2, and he is a good foil for the seething id that is Trump.
It was fun drawing Trump’s wide, yelling mouth and messing up Pence’s hair.
At the time I made this comic strip, Trump had been warning U.S. governors that if they could not quell unrest in response to the latest wave of killings of black Americans, then Trump would send troops to those states and handle it himself.
My hope for Trump After Trump is to keep it less political and more about the narcissistic character of Trump and how he responds to our complex world. But, occasionally, it seems funny to reflect a specific moment in his actual presidency, such as this threat of sending the national guard to states who did not ask for military support.
You know how frustrating it can be to try to call someone and they don’t answer? We all deal with this little feeling of powerlessness, all the time. “Why won’t she answer??” “Where IS he?” We feel slighted when someone doesn’t pick up the phone, as if they are intentionally insulting us. Maybe she’s busy with her own life? Maybe he’s having a loud party because he just won the American presidency?
Trump, in particular, seems to hate feeling powerless, so his mind goes to a solution that can project his power. In this comic it reads as a funny little tantrum. I expect there will be a lot of tantrums in future strips, but I’ll try to keep the punchlines from all being hissy fits!
“What if Trump loses on election night and does not concede?” This was a worry – which turned out to be unwarranted, but not for the reasons many of us expected – back in 2016, and it is a worry I have now, in 2020.
This first Trump After Trump comic strip came out of the context of the COVID pandemic, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black and brown Americans, and the anti-scientific, anti-environment and anti-humanist Trump presidency. The stresses of this moment in mid-2020 had me particularly worried one evening as I thought about the possibility of a contentious election process this November.
I was in my kitchen, worrying, and the thought just materialized, “What if Trump lost in November 2020 and graciously conceded the election and withdrew from public life?” The thought felt like a fantasy, but it felt good to pretend for a moment that I had fast-forwarded to November and my “what if” was playing itself out. Within seconds, I imagined a comic strip that told this story, and the strips started writing themselves.
This first strip has fun with the idea that the real Trump plays the role of the victim (of the media, for example). So we see him feeling assailed by fate as he attempts to break expectations and do the right thing. He tries to call Biden to concede the election honorably, but Biden doesn’t pick up the phone! The nerve!