A terrible state of affairs has been grossly overlooked by politicians and activists alike for centuries. Simply put, if you are a cartoon character, your chances of being tied to the train tracks to wait helplessly until you are killed are far too high—if you don’t accidentally walk off a cliff or succumb to injuries from falling anvils first. And the train lobbies in cartoonland are undoubtedly too strong; the speed limits for illustrated locomotives and safety mechanisms on their hand brakes haven’t kept up with modern standards.
This is all absurd, of course. Cartoons, and political illustrations in particular, are exactly the right place to beat metaphors to death and carry arguments to the point of absurdity. Many know that the famed Dr. Seuss drew anti-Nazi cartoons during World War II, and in one, dated September 9, 1941, he drew a personified “America first” seated on train tracks looking up smilingly at Uncle Sam. “Relax, Sam, I assure you the express turns off right here!” he tells the latter, as a train with a swastika on the front of the smokebox bears down on them.
Those two characters are clearly going to get hit, particularly because the second track, labeled “Appeasement junction,” is neither connected to the other track nor sufficiently large to carry the train. Whether Mr. First or Uncle Sam has sufficient means to cover their funerals and the loved ones they undoubtedly will leave behind remains unknown at press time.
How Dare You Tweet a Cartoon
Explaining a cartoon is kind of like having to explain a joke, but that’s just what is necessary after the president apparently retweeted and then deleted a cartoon. “Trump Shares, Then Deletes, Twitter Post of Train Hitting Cartoon Person Covered by CNN Logo” stated a New York Times headline. “Promoting a cartoon of a person being run over by a train appeared to belittle the attack by a driver who ran into a crowd of counterprotesters, leaving a 32-year-old woman dead on Saturday and 19 others injured,” stated the second paragraph.
In the Washington Post, the story was similar. “After Charlottesville, Trump retweets — then deletes — image of train running over CNN reporter,” the headline states. Meanwhile, The Hill hedged its bets a little in its headline: “Trump retweets cartoon appearing to show train hitting CNN reporter.” Appears to whom? Appears why?
The cartoon is by no means the best-drawn political cartoon in history, but reporters appear to be either intentionally misreading it or untrained at deciphering imagery. If one looks closely at the cartoon (which superimposes the CNN logo on a donkey in this cartoon, published last January), it’s clear what is being proposed. The personified CNN logo is trying to stop the Trump train by unsuccessfully wedging its (his?) feet against a since-broken wooden buffer. The argument seems clear: Trump is on the move and CNN can do nothing to stop him.
Maybe Try a Return Argument Sometime
Saying that the president retweeting this image suggests in any way that he wants a CNN reporter to be hit by a train is simply a misreading. It would be the same to assume that Dr. Seuss actually wanted Uncle Sam dead—whatever that would even mean. The same goes for hundreds if not thousands of images of cartoons depicting train crashes, or imminent crashes.
It’s the kind of “hyperliteralism” Mollie Hemingway has diagnosed that many bring to their responses to the president’s statements, and tweets.
Here’s the thing about train cartoons. If you don’t like the person trying to stop one train, why not draw your own and put someone else in the train-stopping role? It’s been the way political cartoons have worked for long before this president assumed office, and it will be the case for a long time after.