Archive for Trumpism

Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth. (Public Books)

Anne Villeneuve, illus. from Dear Donald Trump (2018)

Public Books (logo)Over on Public Books today, my essay “Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth” recommends some good books for educating young people about “President” Trump, and brings in a few examples of the type of books that ought to be avoided — indeed, that a conscientious publisher would have never published in the first place.  (Also: given the pace of news these days, I should add that I turned in the piece back in August….)

I had more to say than Public Books could use. Here are the most important bits that got cut, woven together with a few additional reflections.

“Rich Rump”: Trump’s first appearance in a children’s book

Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski, Christmas in July (1991)

Public Books didn’t publish the image (above) from Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski’s Christmas in July (1991) — a whimsical picture book featuring Rich Rump, a thinly disguised version of Donald Trump. As I say in the essay, the earliest children’s books in which he appears “depicted the basic truths of the man: selfish, vain, heartless, dishonest.” After he became “President,” children’s literature strove for a more “balanced” approach. However, the “both sides” approach to representing Trump — in children’s books or any media — is a very dangerous lie.

Destroying the boundary between truth and falsehood disorients us

It’s become something of a cliché to quote Hannah Arendt, but we should keep quoting her until more people heed her warnings. So: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”[1]

This quotation comes up a lot these days. But I also think not enough people are paying attention to this fact. Because Trump’s prolific lies damage the psyche — both individually and collectively.

Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years

As of August 12, 2019, Trump had made over 12,000 false and misleading claims during his presidency, averaging over thirteen lies per day. In contrast, Barack Obama made eighteen false or misleading statements during his eight-year presidency. Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years.[2]

Trump “children’s books” for adults

There are some fun satirical works in the guise of children’s books — one of which, Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal’s A Child’s First Book of Trump (2106), also works as a story for children. Black’s ersatz Seussian verse and Rosenthal’s sketches represent Trump as part unreformed Grinch and part Sylvester McMonkey McBean (the salesman who profits from the Sneetches’ prejudice). As in all allegorical children’s picture books about Trump, he is a negative example.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Since they are adult satires delivered via the medium of the picture book, too much of the humor in Ann TelnaesTrump’s ABC, Erich Origen and Gan Golan’s Goodnight Trump, P. Shauers’ Donald and the Golden Crayon (all 2018) and Faye Kanouse and Amy Zhing’s new If You Give a Pig the White House (2019) may go over the heads of children under ten, but all remind us that the humor in allegorical Trump picture books is a vital part of their truth-telling. And anyone over that age — such as most people reading this post, I imagine — might find the books’ dark humor restorative. (If you want recommendations, my favorite three of these picturebooks-for-adults are Trump’s ABC, Donald and the Golden Crayon, and Goodnight Trump.)

Slice through the fog of lies

One of the surprises of writing this piece was that the work actually proved restorative and clarifying. Facing the prospect of writing this (for the Children’s Literature Association Conference, in June), I dreaded reading lots of children’s books about the evil orange bloviator. But reading them — all of the good ones, but especially Martha Brockenbrough’s Unpresidented — helped me awaken from the nightmare in which we are living. It helped me slice through the fog of lies. It reminded me once again that this is not normal.

This is not normal

To any who may find my truth-telling advice too partisan, I would cite historian Dave Renton’s point that “one cannot be balanced when writing about fascism, there is nothing positive to be said of it.”[3] And yes, Trump lacks sufficient belief in the state to be a fascist in the traditional sense; he is more an authoritarian kleptocrat who uses fascist tactics. But my point is this: if identifying evil as evil is now a partisan behavior, then children’s books and publishers must take a side.

This position challenges the “marketplace of ideas” approach we learn in school — the liberal idea that, to quote Mark Bray, “the key to combatting ‘extremism’ is to trust in the allegedly meritocratic essence of the public sphere: If all are allowed their say, then the good ideas will float to the top while the bad sink to the bottom, like live-action Reddit.”[4] But, historically, the public sphere has not triumphed over totalitarian movements. And some topics — such as people’s humanity — should not be subject to debate.

That our shared humanity is now subject to debate shows how Trump’s poisonous ideas have become normalized.  Remember when, in the early days of the regime, people used to say “This is not normal”? Even as Trump’s behavior grows stranger and more dangerous, we hear this far less often.

Only the truth can liberate the lie-entangled mind

Motivating this essay — though absent even from its draft versions — is postwar Germany’s need to reeducate children raised under the lies of the Third Reich. For the past few years, America’s children have been growing up in a country whose leader is a kleptocratic white-supremacist sociopath — a man who not only brags about sexual assault, but who appointed sexual-assault-hobbyist “Blackout Brett” Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. They’ve been living in a world where this sort of behavior gets normalized — where a pathological liar’s lies get treated as if, perhaps this time, they may have some truth value, and so on tonight’s program, we invite an expert and a con artist to debate the cloak of lies in which the Trump administration has swathed the day’s cruelty.

Enough! Trump is and has always been a liar. Draw on this irrefutable basic fact of the man’s character when you report on, write children’s books about, or say anything at all about Trump. Call out his lies. Tell the truth. As Michael Chabon recently wrote in a different context, “Truth lives. It can be found. And there is no encounter more powerful than the encounter between the slashing, momentary blade of truth and a lie-entangled mind.”[5]

In sum: Children’s books can be that blade of truth.


Thanks…

For the Public Books article, thanks to Nina Christensen for introducing me to Dumme Donald bygger en mur i børnehaven (Stupid Donald Builds a Wall in Nursery School), and for translating the title. Thanks to Elina Druker for translating the book’s original Swedish title. Thanks to Jules Danielson for introducing me to The Wall and to both Jules and Betsy Bird for confirming that Christmas in July is the first children’s book to feature Mr. Trump.


Related posts:


[1] Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” Between Past and Future (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 252-3.

[2] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days,” Washington Post , 12 Aug. 2019.

[3] Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice (Pluto Press, 1999), 18.

[4] Mark Bray, ANTIFA: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Melville House, 2017), 146.

[5] Michael Chabon, “What’s the Point?” The Paris Review, 23 Sept. 2019.

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Harold vs. Donald, round 2

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Last year, there was Donald and the Golden Crayon, a satirical look at Mad King Donald, inspired by Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955). For more on that, see my interview with the book’s author and publisher from October 2018.

John Darkow, Donald and the Black Sharpie (6 Sept. 2019)

This year, it’s Donald and the Black Sharpie, in which at least four five six people have invoked Johnson’s hero to mock our Evil Orange Overlord’s insistence that, with his magic pen, he can change the weather. Even before John Darkow’s cartoon (above), Bradley Whitford tweeted:

On September 6th, Dana Milbank and Tom Toles published a full-length parody of Johnson’s book, which they titled Donald and the Black Sharpie.

Tom Toles, from Donald and the Black Sharpie (words by Dana Milbank, 6 Sept. 2019)

Well, the text is a full-length parody. Toles provides a select few illustrations.

Also on Friday, Jimmy Kimmel did a Donald and the Magic Sharpie parody on his show.

On CNN on Sunday the 8th, Jake Tapper presented his own version of Donald and the Black Sharpie.

(I can’t embed the video here, but you can see it on CNN.)

Finally, on September 16th, Ward Sutton published Donald and the Purple Sharpie in the Boston Globe.

Ward Sutton’s Donald and the Purple Sharpie (16 Sept. 2019)

Sure, it would be better if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did her job and began impeachment proceedings against our Traitor-in-Chief. And, no, I don’t expect any elected Republican to step up: they have been Quislings throughout, only occasionally murmuring an objection.

However, until enough elected officials find the courage to act, we can at least laugh at the deranged orange bloviator. Laughing in no way offsets the damage he continues to inflict, I know. But shared laughter reminds us that we’re not losing our minds. It reminds us we are not alone. We see what he and the entire treasonous Republican Party are doing.

In his classic comic strip Barnaby (1942-1952), Crockett Johnson understood the power of satire. And so Johnson would I think be pleased to see Harold’s crayon wielded to mock the malignant narcissist and his sharpie.


For calling these to my attention, thanks to Ellen Gilmer, Dave Rintoul, Thomas Hamilton, Maureen O’Hara, Olga Holownia, Linda Nel and Stephen Sloan.


Updated (thanks to Olga) on 10 Sept. 2019 to add the Jimmy Kimmel Show, and again (thanks to Linda and Stephen) on 18 Sept. 2019 to add the Ward Sutton cartoon.


Related posts:

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Delights

If you have yet to read Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights (2019), here is an invitation to pick it up. A collection of 102 brief essays he wrote over the course of a year, the book is about the possibility — the necessity — of attentiveness to joy in the world. We live in dark times, and the book does not ignore that. Gay’s sense of delight is capacious, including appreciating beauty, understanding fear, enjoying music, considering the insights gained from pain.

Let me give you an example — one I have shared with many friends, since first I read the book back in March.

The phrase “communities of sorrow” does not appear in Gay’s The Book of Delights.  But the idea does.  Gay writes:

     Among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say came from my student Bethany, talking about her pedagogical aspirations or ethos, how she wanted to be as a teacher, and what she wanted her classrooms to be: “What if we joined our wildernesses together?” Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow, meet. Might, even, join.
     And what if the wilderness — perhaps the densest wild in there — thickets, bogs, swamps, uncrossable ravines and rivers (have I made the metaphor clear?) — is our sorrow? Or, to use [Zadie] Smith’s term, the “intolerable.” It astonishes me sometimes — no, often — how every person I get to know — everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything — lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. Fetus not okay. Everyone, regardless, always, of everything. Not to mention the existential sorrow we are all afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. In this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness?
     Is sorrow the true wild?
     And if it is — and if we join them — your wild to mine — what’s that?
     For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
     What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
     I’m saying: What if that is joy?

I find myself drawn to this because I’ve come to really appreciate sadness. Sadness connects us to others. As Gay suggests, it binds all of us humans together because we all carry within us sadness and pain. It is an affective opening-up, and in this sense sadness is the opposite of depression. When I mentioned this idea to my therapist, he said that there are many flavors of depression, and that I was describing anhedonic depression.  So, revise the previous sentence to say that anhedonic depression is an affective break with the world, an inability to feel.  But sadness offers — or, at least, can offer — a deeper connection to the world, and to our fellow humans.  On the Venn Diagram of emotions, sadness overlaps with love.

The previous paragraph is one of my delights. Since reading Gay’s book, I have been trying to be more attentive to delights. After mentioning this to Mark Newgarden in New York, in May, he asked was I writing these down? I was not. So, in June, I began keeping a kind of diary. I call it “Daily Delights,” even though I don’t write in it every day. Here are four more.


From 26 June, Manhattan, Kansas. Upon finishing my swim, I pulled myself out of the pool as another swimmer — who had just arrived — remarked to the swimmer in the adjacent lane that she knew she wouldn’t need to wait for a lane because I was predictable.  Smiling, I said, “What do you mean? I warmed up the lane for you.” After a brief, good-natured conversation, I wished her a good swim, said that I was glad to be so predictable, and began to amble off to the showers. Worried that she may have insulted me, she walked a few steps with me to explain herself. I assured her that I understood and that I was indeed predictable.

Our conversation prompted this reflection. “Predictable” is one of those few words that renders a negative judgment both as itself and as its negation. To say that a person is “unpredictable” conveys the notion that he/she is unreliable, potentially volatile, emotionally unstable, or even unhinged. Though it should be complimentary, “predictable” — when applied to a person — generally means “boring.” If we want to compliment someone’s predictability, we instead say that she/he is reliable. Or, if we want to praise unpredictability, we may call a person surprising or, perhaps, exciting. And, yet, of course, we are all of us a mixture of predictability and unpredictability. I may reliably swim for 40 minutes at the same time of the day or typically jog the same two routes. But I also embrace the unpredictability of travel, where my jogging route is not the only thing that changes. Life is a balance between the need for surety and enjoyment of change, the comfort of the expected and of finding joy in what we did not anticipate.


From 7 July, Berlin. I often say that time abroad affords me a much-needed mental-health holiday. Which it does. And lately I’ve taken to joking that I’m hiding from the U.S. — that’s why I’m traveling to so many places. I have to keep moving!

It would be more accurate to say that time abroad grants perspective. It gives me space. It provides a distance from which I can think. It allows me to reclaim my mental space more fully.

Donald Trump is a parasite who colonizes human consciousness. Placing an ocean between myself and the parasite diminishes its power. Temporarily.

It’s a bit like putting some distance between yourself and King Leck (in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels). In the case of Bitterblue and Katsa (though few others in the realm), the distance — and ultimately, the death of Leck — helps the fog lift and clarity return.


From 27 July, Vienna, after spending a long time staring at Johannes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting (c. 1666-1668) in the Kunst Historisches Museum: There should be a term for the experience of looking at realistic paintings after seeing a Vermeer. The (unfair) comparison makes everything else feel a bit flat. You feel that you could step into a Vermeer, as if what you have seen is not just canvas but window or portal. I spent more time looking at the Vermeer than I did any other piece of art in the museum. I had a similar experience with Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, on display at the Alte Pinakothek in München in the fall. The experience of looking at a Vermeer is almost hypnotic. And you need to be there, in the gallery, looking at it. No reproduction of Vermeer has quite the same effect.


From 7 August, Edinburgh. Days are so full of thoughts and impressions. Impossible to note even just the interesting ones and keep experiencing the day. I had that thought this evening, darting between and among the umbrella’d and the uncovered, as the rain fell, but more lightly than earlier in the afternoon/evening.

Or, more succinctly: It is impossible to both live life and chronicle it fully.


In conclusion, I’d say this: inasmuch as it is possible, do not let malevolent leaders, oppressive systems, collapsing climate, etc. rob of you your own capacity for joy. I realize this is hard — and harder for those who are the direct targets of the regime’s* cruelty. I am grateful for — and acknowledge my own privilege in having — business, family, and friends that enabled me to travel this summer. I should also add that there are also more troubling thoughts chronicled amidst my delights — omitted from this narrative, even though making sense of my tangled mind is in fact one of my delights. OK. That’s all. Find delight where you can. Take care of yourselves.


* I am thinking of Mad King Donald’s regime, but feel free to insert any of the many others we have to choose from: Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and now — it seems — Boris Johnson…

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RESIST! A mix for 2019

NO 45 by Mike Mitchell
NO 45 by Mike Mitchell

To keep our spirits up amidst the cascading catastrophes inflicted by the Russian Asset and his quislings (the GOP), the resistance needs a soundtrack. Here’s my offering for 2019.

And here’s last year’s mix, which is also featured in a post that includes “75 better names for 45,” since there are so many more apt names for the Evil Orange Man.

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Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature (ChLAQ)

Children's Literature Association Quarterly 43.4 (Winter 2018): coverSeparating children from their parents is a violation of basic human rights and does not deter asylum-seekers.  Hostile to facts and compassionate only towards himself, Mr. Trump has pursued this policy with reckless indifference to its consequences.  As of the end of last month (over four months after the court-imposed deadline to reunite these families), over 140 children had still not been reunited with their parents.  And that figure does not include the over 15,000 children locked up in Trump’s child detention centers.

Writing about Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature — the theme of this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly — will not stop the US government’s (or any other government’s) crimes against humanity. And yet, I edited this special issue, which features smart essays by six sharp scholars: Debra Dudek, Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Leyla Savsar, Anastasia Ulanowicz, Maria Rosa Truglio, and Sara Van den Bossche.  Why?  Not because we expect our words to awaken the consciences of those in power — if, indeed, the people who support these policies possess consciences.  We write because we speak as we can, in the venues available to us.  Because all scholarship is, in some measure, a record of the time in which it was written.  Because children’s literature can cultivate empathy.  Because children’s literature can (to borrow Rudine Sims Bishop’s famous term) serve as a mirror to young people who have been displaced — geographically, culturally, emotionally.  Because words and images can change minds.

Or, at least, that is what I believe. As I write in my introduction,

When children’s literature cultivates an empathetic imagination, it can bring people of all ages closer to understanding the displacement felt by migrants, refugees, and those in diasporic communities. Such literature can affirm the experiences of children in those communities, letting them know that they are not alone….

As scholars of children’s literature, we are not, alas, in charge of shaping humane policies for our governments. But we can, to borrow the words of Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, help people to envision “a world without borders as we have known them—a world in which nation-states are not prized or assumed.” We can guide readers to books that harness the imagination’s power to nourish empathy, and we can steer them away from those that reinforce bigotry. Thanks to our professional training, we understand that such work is necessary and complicated: A work’s propagation of prejudice can be both subtle and overt. Art is often ideologically ambivalent, humanizing in some ways and dehumanizing in others. Another thing we can do, then, is to teach people how to spot the difference. Careful, thoughtful readers can resist lies, misinformation, and scapegoating. By helping us develop the necessary critical literacies, the articles in this issue foster these vital skills.

The issue is available via ProjectMuse.  If you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to Project Muse, please access the articles that way.  Doing so generates revenue for the Children’s Literature Association — an organization of which I am a member.  If you lack access to the issue, I am glad to send you a pdf of my introduction.  Just drop me a line.  (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s,” even though I have long since removed mp3s from this blog.)

I’ll conclude with the two autobiographical paragraphs from my introduction:

I proposed this special issue, in part, because I am from a family of immigrants and am the descendant of refugees. The Nels were among those 2 million seventeenth-century French Protestants (Huguenots) whose flight from persecution introduced the word refugee into the English language. Today, my extended family (nuclear family plus cousins, uncles, and aunts) lives in five countries on four continents. We are a migratory group. In migrants, refugees, and the diasporic, I see my own family.

But I also see my family in the people who caused such displacement—from the active Islamophobe who supports a “Muslim ban” to the passive inheritors of White supremacy. I am aware that my being born in the US has everything to do with my parents being White South Africans and not Black South Africans. Their Whiteness granted them access not just to the education that made finding an American job possible, but also to the basic human rights that significantly increased the chances that they would survive and flourish. Indeed, my own flourishing is built upon a range of intersecting structures of oppression.

I’ve written more on this subject elsewhere on this blog — perhaps most directly in “Charleston, Family History, and White Responsibility” (June 2015).  For the past few years, that post has only been available via its archival presence on the Wayback Machine, for reasons explained in the footnote below.*  But there are plenty of other autobiographical posts hosted here, some of which address White Privilege and White Responsibility.

But,… returning to the special issue.  Remember: human rights do not depend upon citizenshipHumanity has no borders.


Thanks to the editorial consultants for this issue: Evelyn Arizpe, Clare Bradford, Ann Gonzalez, Gabrielle Halko, Gillian Lathey, Kerry Mallan, Robyn McCallum, Mavis Reimer, Lara Saguisag, Lee Talley, Jan Van Coillie, Lies Wesseling


Other writing (by me) on this subject:


* My father was furious at me for speaking the truth. In an effort to keep the peace, I deleted the post (though, while writing this post now, have added a link from that post to the Wayback Machine’s archival record). This effort failed; dad stopped speaking to me shortly thereafter. Incidentally, ideas expressed in it emerge in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (notably, the end of Chapter 3), but (unlike the original post) do so without identifying specific individuals.

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Donald and the Golden Crayon

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Today (20 Oct. 2018) would be Crockett Johnson’s 112th birthday.  In commemoration of that event, I have two — yes, two — posts for you!  The first is an interview with the author and the publisher of the new satirical book Donald and the Golden Crayon.  Enjoy!


P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: opening page

“In the middle of the night, Donald woke from his terrific sleep and cried out ‘Covfefe!’”

So begins Donald and the Golden Crayon, the first book-length parody of Crockett Johnson’s classic Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955). It’s a reminder that, prior to his Harold books, Johnson was best known as the cartoonist behind the satirical comic strip Barnaby (1942-1952), whose five-year-old title character resembles a slightly older version of Harold. Barnaby’s garrulous trickster of a fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley, was the vehicle for most of the strip’s satire —  a much more likable con-artist than the Donald who stars in this book.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: St. Basil's Cathedral

Donald and the Golden Crayon spins a tale that combines the tone and sentence structure of the Harold books with the malevolence and pettiness of Donald Trump. Near the book’s end, Donald is “tired” and so “made a cozy little place to sleep” (that strongly resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square).  Inside, “His room was beautiful, just beautiful. It had beautiful golden curtains, a tremendous golden statue, and a wonderful golden bed. It even had a steamy golden shower.” Trumpian adjectives bounce around in simple, Johnsonian sentences.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: golden showers

To me, the book reads as mockery of “President” Trump. This two-page spread (above) includes a statue of a Roman soldier brutalizing another man, and a reference to the alleged pee-pee tape — which also features in the book’s title, and the pseudonym P. Shauers. Earlier pages reference Donald’s racism,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: the wall

show Donald ignoring flood victims while displaying his ignorance about climate change,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: climate change

have Donald pollute the water,…

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon: pollution

and so on.

Last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I talked with the book’s publisher, Pete Schiffer. He assured me that the book was not taking a side on Mr. Trump. Explaining why he was drawn to the book, he said, “we liked that the book framed a lot of the commentary without being positional.”  So, I asked…


Me: What do you mean “without being positional”?

Pete: I mean that there isn’t a position taken. It’s just the facts given. One can read into it in any direction they would like by piecing the facts together in different ways.

Me: So, you say “not positional.” I would imagine that fans of the title character may find this less enjoyable than opponents of the title character. But that’s not your take on it?

Pete: They could. Depends on what perspective they’re coming from.

Me: Really?

Pete: They could come behind it and say “Yes this is the way that things are and the way they should be” and get behind it.

Me: Really?

Pete: People have all different opinions, and I’m not one to put any words in their mouth.

Me: So, your take on this is that it’s somewhat apolitical, as a book. It doesn’t really take a side. It’s representing a moment, and that’s all. Or am I putting words in your mouth?

Pete: No, you’re not. The intention is not to take a side — to put the facts out as they are and let people decide for themselves.

Me: I know it’s only just out, but has the response confirmed that? Has the response confirmed your goal?

Pete: With people that we’ve shared it that are leaning in one direction or another, that is the response we’ve had so far is that.

Me: Interesting. The response you’ve had so far is that —?.

Pete: Depending on one’s position, they read into it based on their position.


Donald and the Golden Crayon is apolitical?  It’s true that irony does depend upon a community of readers who share the ironist’s understanding of the subject.  So, I could see how fans of 45 might enjoy simple sentence structures and spare illustrations that depict their hero’s cruelty, racism, and ignorance.  While I could imagine readers not getting the satire, I am skeptical of the claim that the book does not take a side.  Happily, the publisher very kindly put me in touch with Mr. P. Shauers himself, and we had the following conversation via email.


Nel: In talking with Pete (your publisher) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was struck by his comment that he sees Donald and the Golden Crayon as essentially apolitical.  He said that both critics and fans of Mr. Trump have enjoyed the book.  Your chosen pseudonym and the book’s mimicry of Mr. Trump’s sentences led me to interpret this as a more politically engaged work — specifically, as more anti-Trump than pro-Trump.  So, let me ask you.  Would you describe Donald and the Golden Crayon as more of a fond homage to Mr. Trump or more of a sustained mockery of Mr. Trump?   Or how would you describe the book’s political leanings?

Shauers: Oh, it’s a mockery.  I think what my publisher was talking about is that everything in the book is factual, based on real quotes or events.  So, in that sense it is neutral, but the way Donald is portrayed is definitely meant to have him come off as cold and cruel as possible.  I’m very anti-Trump.  I’ve never been too political, because I often don’t really get what’s going on.  I don’t understand global economics, how deficits work, or what tariffs are good or bad.  But with Trump, it’s his daily cruelty and nastiness that gets me.  It’s the lying and bullying and company he keeps that motivated me to draw this book.

I made an odd connection while working on this…when I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty non-stop for a few years.  And no matter how bad it got, the school never did much about it.  It made me feel as if the grown-ups weren’t doing their job, and if they wouldn’t make the bullying stop, who would? I’ve been experiencing the same powerless feelings how since the election.  So I fight back with paper and pen.

Nel: Who do you see as the audience for Donald and the Golden Crayon?  (Adults only?  Some children?  Conservatives?  Liberals?  Crockett Johnson fans?)

Shauers: I see the audience as adults who are not fans of Trump, and possibly need a good laugh.  I don’t think kids will really get what’s going on with it.  While making the book I have met some conservative people who are sickened by Trump, and they have found the book to be humorous.  Which goes back to what the publisher was saying that both sides could enjoy it.  I don’t think any fanatical MAGA’s will enjoy it, in fact we’re hoping for some negative press from the deplorables.  I do hope the picture book community finds the book funny.

Nel: If you don’t mind my asking, how do you identify, politically?  (If you do mind my asking, then just skip this question.)

Shauers: I’m a liberal, and find myself getting more and more so as I get older, and I see what’s going on these days.  I was raised in a really conservative, white town and the racism and narrow-mindedness I saw growing up left a mark on me.  I moved to NYC when I was 18 as I couldn’t get out fast enough.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 27 Apr 1945

Nel: Though his politics are largely invisible in the Harold books, Johnson’s earlier work had more of a satirical edge — Barnaby, most famously.  Do you know the Barnaby comics?  Did they at all influence your decision to draw upon the Harold books in your parody?

Shauers: You know, I’ve read some Barnaby, but not in a long time, and only a bit of it.  I don’t really “know” it. It’s been on my radar to reinvestigate it again.

Nel: What influenced your decision to choose the Harold stories as the vehicle for your satire?  I ask because this is the first book-length parody of any of Johnson’s works.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverShauers: The idea to use Harold as a base for the parody came up last year. It seems that there were some attempts to make some new Harold books, and my agent had thrown my hat in the ring as a writer/illustrator.  I didn’t get the project, and I don’t know what happened to it.  While I was thinking about it, the similarity between Harold and Donald popped into my mind, and I knew Trump signed everything with a golden sharpie, so that was the stepping off point. 

I looked at Harold closely, and was thinking about how he makes the world as he sees it, and makes it up as he goes. Which is what Trump does, and it just seemed to click.  If you have to think too hard about connections within a parody, it’s not working.

Nel: In your book, what motivated the choice of Donald’s Pulp Fiction/mobster suit?  Black (instead of Harold’s white jumper) so that you could stick to a limited color palette (as Johnson did)?  Visual allusion to Trump’s mob affiliations?  Something else?

Shauers: Hah!  The mob connection never crossed my mind. I tried a blue suit/red tie, which is much more his style, but it wasn’t minimal enough.  I really wanted it to feel like a Harold book, and they only use different values of purple, and shades of black.  I did keep his little footy pajamas, and they were very fun to draw.

Nel: If Harold met Donald, what would Harold do (or draw or say)?

Shauers: Yikes.  Let’s keep all the children away from Donald.

Nel: Your publisher said that the “P. Shauers” pseudonym was simply to avoid any confusion between this book and your many (over 40!) children’s books.  Are there other reasons for the pseudonym?  Is it say, easier, to write about Mr. Trump under the guise of a pseudonym?  Have you any plans to reveal your true identity?

Shauers: I used a pseudonym because I have been writing and illustrating for children since 1995.  I didn’t want any librarians to think this was for kids, and I didn’t want any right-wing nutjobs to go after my books in any way.  It just seemed easier and cleaner.  Recently, I had a school librarian scold me for talking politics while on my “real name” Twitter account. She said she was very offended and wouldn’t buy any of my books. So, I’m glad I chose to use P. Shauers for this.  Plus, it’s an easy gag. (David Milgrim used Ann Droid on his Goodnight iPad for the same reasons.) 


If you enjoy political commentary in the guise of a children’s book, you’ll enjoy Donald and the Golden Crayon.  It’s a clever parody, and its thin-skinned satirical target not only lacks a sense of humor, but hates to be mocked by others.  So, let us continue to mock him.

Finally, if you’re an American citizen reading this, please vote!  The restoration of our democracy depends upon you.

Follow P. Shauers on Twitter via: @thegoldencrayon


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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Why Trump Jails Crying Children. How We Resist. (A Twitter Essay)


Related posts on this blog

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RESIST! Year #2 begins NOW.

NO 45 by Mike MitchellOn the one-year anniversary of Russia’s successful hacking of American democracy (congrats, Vlad!), a bit of encouragement for those who oppose the Trump regime’s assaults on healthcare, the environment, women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, the very idea of rights, basic human decency, and truth itself.  I’ve divided this into three sections: (1) a resistance mix, (2) 75 better names for 45, (3) resources.


1. RESIST: a mix

Trump by Peter HannanA few notes on the mix (for any who may care).  2, 3, and 17 all written by Woody Guthrie. “Old Man Trump” is about 45’s father, Klansman and real estate developer Fred Trump. But, since (in this case) the rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the diseased tree, the song is also applicable to his white supremacist son. 6. Actually written about Richard Nixon, but don’t let that stop you from singing it at the tiny-fingered tyrant currently occupying the White House. Bonus: features the Jackson 5 on backing vocals. 11. A song about many subjects (including the current regime). If you’re curious about the many allusions, I recommend looking it up on Genius.com. 14 is from the Women’s March. You’ve probably heard the a cappella version of “Quiet,” which hasn’t seen commercial release. So, here is the songwriter’s recording. 15. The title track from Benajmin Booker’s album, which I predict will be on many end-of-year “Best of 2017” lists. 19. From Mavis Staples’ We’ll Never Turn Back, which is one of my desert island discs. 20. Simone transforms the Beatles wishy-washy lyrics into a truly revolutionary statement. This may be the best cover of any Beatles song ever. 21. A South African cover of U2’s song about MLK. 22. Frank Sinatra’s 1945 recording of this was a #22 pop hit. It’s also been recorded by Josh White (1945), Paul Robeson (1947), Sonny Rollins (instrumental, 1956), Sam Cooke (1960), Sarah Vaughan (1961), Mahalia Jackson (1962), and — most recently — The Mavericks (2016). The Ravens’ 1949 a cappella cover (included here) is my favorite. The song has music by Earl Robinson and lyrics by Abel Meeropol (under his pseudonum Lewis Allan). In case the name Meeropol (or Lewis Allan) doesn’t ring a bell, he also wrote “Strange Fruit” (first recorded by Billie Holiday, 1939). He and his wife Anne adopted Michael and Robert Rosenberg, after the U.S. government executed the boys’ parents, Julius and Ethel.

(I had to modify this playlist slightly because not everything is on Spotify.  As a result, I couldn’t include “That’s What Makes Us Great” by Joe Grushecky with Bruce Springsteen, “sPEak” by Public Enemy, “Tiny Hands” by Fiona Apple [the Women’s March chant].  So, you’ll need to find those elsewhere.)


2. What’s in a name? OR, 75 better names for 45

Steve Brodner, Trump ComboverDonald Trump is an unhinged, thin-skinned, narcissistic sociopath. He is a racist, a rapist, a bully, a traitor, and a pathological liar. He has no respect for the office he holds, nor for the people he governs. Indeed, he has no respect for anyone except himself. He also has no idea how stupid he is, and lacks the curiosity that might enable him to learn something. If you have been even casually following the crimes, craziness, and casual cruelty of his administration, you already know this.  I am saying it here because language matters. Words shape our sense of reality. So, there’s no need to resort to euphemism when referring to a man who (for instance) brags about sexual assault. Indeed, there’s no need to be anything but blunt in describing a man who deliberately, repeatedly, severs words from their meanings.

So, I’ve been casually collecting alternate appellations for Trump. Like the man himself, some of these are not safe for work. I’ve given credit where I know whom to credit — but I don’t always know the author. A very few are of my own invention — or I think they are, but it’s possible I simply heard them and adopted them. If you find one that lacks a credit, please supply, and I will amend. Thanks!

  1. Agent Orange
  2. The amber Führer
  3. Angry Creamsicle [Stephen Colbert]
  4. angry pumpkin
  5. bigoted orange bully
  6. blithering turd buffet [Patton Oswalt via Twitter]
  7. the blonde Berlusconi [The Economist]
  8. carrot in a suit
  9. Casino Mussolini [Samantha Bee]
  10. Cheeto Benito
  11. Cheeto-dusted bloviator [Madeleine Davies]
  12. Cheeto in a suit
  13. Cheetolini
  14. cocktail shrimp in a toupee [Alexandra Petri]
  15. Don the Con
  16. The Donald
  17. Trump Traitor by Mike MitchellДональд Трамп [“Donald Trump” in Russian]
  18. Dorito in chief
  19. fascist clown
  20. fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon [Daylin Leach.For more, see Ben Zimmer’s “The Rise of the Shitgibbon” (Strong Language, 9 Feb. 2017)]
  21. flaccid fascist
  22. 45
  23. Fuckface Von Clownstick [Jon Stewart]
  24. goddamn butterscotch nazi pissmagnet [Matt Fraction]
  25. grandpa baggysuits  [Stephen Colbert, 25 Oct. 2017]
  26. Grifter-in-Chief
  27. Hair Hitler
  28. a hefty sack of pudding that’s gone bad [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  29. Herr Gropenführer [Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger]
  30. Herr Twitler [popularized by George Takei, but source unknown]
  31. the idiot king
  32. Il Douche
  33. Insane Clown President [Matt Taibbi]
  34. Kim Jong-Un’s more portly twin [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  35. a large scoop of orange sherbet covered with dog fur [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  36. Mad King Donald
  37. Moron-in-Chief
  38. Mr. Tangerine Man
  39. Napoleon BonaTrump [Samantha Bee]
  40. oleaginous orange bloviator
  41. Orange Gibbon
  42. a petty narcissist with barn hay for hair [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  43. Petulant Plutocrat
  44. Pig Boy [Paul Slansky]
  45. President Backpfeifengesicht [“punchable face” in German]
  46. President Bonespur
  47. President Cheeto
  48. President Chump
  49. President Doucheweasel
  50. President Gaslight
  51. President Kompromat
  52. President Golden Shower
  53. President Snowflake [Samantha Bee]
  54. President Swamp
  55. President Tweetbait
  56. President 😡
  57. the president* or President* Trump [Charles Pierce]
  58. Putin’s Puppet
  59. SCROTUS (So-Called Ruler Of The United States) [@ElayneBoosler, who says “My original #SCROTUS meaning was scrotum + POTUS (pussy grabber in chief), but I like the ‘so-called ruler’ usage 2”]
  60. Shitler
  61. short-fingered overlord
  62. short-fingered vulgarian [Graydon Carter, SPY Magazine, 1980s]
  63. Spray-Tan Caligula
  64. super-callous fascist racist extra braggadocious
  65. Tang the Destroyer
  66. tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon [@MetalOllie on Twitter.  For more, see Ben Zimmer’s “The Rise of the Shitgibbon” (Strong Language, 9 Feb. 2017)]
  67. tiny-fingered tyrant
  68. tiny-handed, emoji-headed hate monkey [satirical program on BBC, though I don’t know which one]
  69. a total jackwagon with saggy neck meat [Stephen Colbert, 4 Oct 2017]
  70. Ann Telnaes, Trump's New HatTraitor-in-Chief
  71. Tropicana Jong-il [Michael Arceneaux, in The Root]
  72. Trümpelthinskin [Paul Slansky]
  73. Trumpster
  74. vulgar talking yam [Charles Pierce]
  75. a walking talking rectum

There are more good ones out there, I’m sure.  And you can create your own.  Just mix and match, using the list above!

Also, to anyone who finds this list offensive, I would advise you to focus on what is truly offensive — for example, the fact that traitor & con-man Donald Trump is currently running the country, and that most of his party is colluding with him.  A major US political party is also passively endorsing treason.  FOCUS.  Indeed, you might draw on some of the resources below.


3. Resources & Further Reading

Five days after the election, I wrote “Surviving Trumpism. Restoring Democracy.” It holds up pretty well (if I do say so myself), and calls me back to the sense of urgency I felt then.  It reminds me that, among other things, I need to do more calling of my representatives.

But there are many, many other things you might read to stay focused, outraged, and active.  This is an incomplete list of resources.

Activism

Stay informed

  • Donald Trump is Corrupt AF. Tracking the corruption of the Trump administration.
  • Presterity: “Our mission is to document the Trump phenomenon, and ideally, limit the damage that can be caused by this unprecedented assault on facts, civil liberties, civil rights, and norms of public and political behavior.”
  • Trump Con Law podcast: Noting that the 45th president is constantly testing the U.S. Constitution, Roman Mars uses this as an occasion to learn about Constitutional law — via Professor Elizabeth Joh.  That might sound dry to you, but it really isn’t.
  • The Weekly List, compiled by Amy Siskind.
  • What the Fuck Just Happened Today?   Daily guide to WTF is going on in the U.S.
  • Editorial Board, “The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette,” New York Times 8 Oct. 2017.
  • Newspapers, TV, other publications — many possibilities here.  And do keep in mind that journalists make mistakes.  I’ve seen people say this newspaper published this incorrect story — I’m cancelling my subscription!  But stop and reflect.  How does the media outlet do in general?  Is this anomalous or representative?  Definitely hold the media accountable, and push back against false narratives.  But remember, also, that a free press is what stands between us and tyranny.  They need our support. In return, we have the right to hold them accountable.  Anyway, here are a few — and note that it’s useful to rely upon more than one source, international ones especially.
  • Journalists & citizens who are paying attention (incomplete list):

Know your history

For Educators 

Organizations that need your help

Brian Herrera: "I'm With Us" (301 of 304): "Hope requires" — Philip Nel

Hope
  • Carolina de Robertis, ed., Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times (2017).
  • Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (2004; updated edition, 2016).
  • Eric D. Weitz, “Against Despair,” Public Books 1 Oct. 2016.
  • Howard Zinn, “The Optimism of Uncertainty.” The Nation 20 Sept. 2004. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”
Things I have written (on this blog unless otherwise indicated)

Image credits: “NO 45” by Mike Mitchell, Trump by Peter Hannan, Trump by Steve Brodner, “Traitor” by Mike Mitchell, “Trump’s New Hat” by Ann Telnaes; “также восемь,” from Rowboat Watkins’ Dinky Donnies series; cover for The Economist (issue of 19-25 Aug. 2017) by Jon Berkeley; “Hope Is Not Wishful Thinking” from Brian Herrera’s I’m With Us series.

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Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Chronicle of Higher Education (logo)Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education today, I have a piece on “Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times.” Here’s one of those resolutions:

Teach students to use language well. We can help them to be wary of lazy euphemism — not just because it is bad writing (though it often is), but because its bland familiarity can anaesthetize the attention. As George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” observes: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
The president and his staff spend their days wresting words from their meanings. Amplified by repetition and news coverage, their linguistic nihilism infects our usage, and compromises our collective ability to make sense of the world. So encourage students to discard “alt-right,” “climate skeptic,” and “alternative facts,” and instead, say “white supremacist,” “anti-science,” and “lies.” Help them to resist the slippery idiom of propaganda.

The rest is over at The Chronicle.  Thanks to Robin Bernstein for putting the editor from The Chronicle in touch with me, and to that editor (is it appropriate to name her here?) for publishing this.

She — the editor — asked me to write something on “A column of suggestions for how professors (rookies and senior ones) can get the year off to a good start. Kind of a New Academic Year’s Resolutions.” I said sure! And then jotted notes, and more notes, … and wrote a half-dozen incomplete (failed) drafts. I kept getting stuck because offering the usual beginning-of-term advice felt reckless and irresponsible. It felt like the privileged giving advice to the privileged. In any case, there are lots of columns on the challenges of managing our various and proliferating obligations, or setting writing goals, and related professional predicaments.

Indeed, Robin curates an excellent page of advice. (Her own columns are also full of wisdom. I highly recommend them!)

So, instead, I wrote a piece inviting educators to consider how they might shine a light through the fog of lies that envelops us, nurture the capacity for critical thinking, and help others resist the allure of fascist blowhards. Of course, the younger generation did not vote for the tiny-fingered bloviator. But they will live amidst the damage he and his quislings inflict for many more years than their teachers will.

We should really restore that word — quisling — to contemporary discourse. It comes from Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), the Norwegian Prime Minister (1942-1945) who collaborated with the Nazis, and thus can refer to any short-sighted people who collude with those who do their fellow citizens harm. For instance, most (though not all) of the Republican Party have been happy to betray their country and its citizens. Sure, here and there, they’ll offer a few words of criticism. But will most back up their words with actions?  The majority still fantasize about a tax policy that will increase the misery of those in need, and so put their qualms aside to work with the grifter-in-chief. For instance, right now, will they join Democrats & support DACA legislation for immigrants who — though they lack citizenship — have known no other home than the US? Or will they stand by, while America’s fascist clown deports 800,000 hard-working members of their community? Most Republicans’ behavior thus far does not inspire me to hope. (But I would love to be proven wrong on this!)

Brian Herrera: "I'm With Us" (301 of 304): "Hope requires" — Philip Nel

By design, the administration’s cruelty harms minoritized communities the most. (This is what happens when a white supremacist becomes president.) So, in offering advice, I tried to take into account the fact that, for some of us, merely surviving the regime will be not only enough but truly miraculous. For some, simply continuing to be is itself a form of resistance. And I also understand that critical pedagogy animates some of us more than others. We all move through the world, bearing different and often unseen burdens. What works for one may not work for all.

But those of us who care about democracy and human rights are all in this together. We need to support each other, and — in whatever way we can — ignite beacons of hope amidst the gathering darkness.

A well-educated public is less likely to admire demagogues. So, we educators have our work cut out for us — important, necessary work. And we might locate at least some of our hope in that endeavor.

Related writing (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

Image from Brian Herrera‘s “I’m With Us” series added 7 Sept. 2017.

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Laughter and Resistance: Humor as a Weapon in the Age of Trump (Horn Book)

The Horn Book, May-June 2017In its new issueThe Horn Book joins the resistance. If the previous statement is a slight overstatement (and it is, because the magazine’s values have opposed those of Trumpism since before it acquired that name), it is only a slight overstatement.  The May-June 2017 issue includes at least four pieces critical of the current regime: Raúl the Third’s “The Adventures of Baby D” (which imagines the tiny-fingered tyrant as a tiny-fingered tyke), Eugene Yelchin’s “Mocking Moscow” (Russian jokes, including some on Trumpy), an amusing anecdote by Molly Idle, and my contribution (named in the title of this blog post).

My article isn’t on-line, but UPDATE, MAY 2: My article went on-line today, and here’s the “thesis” paragraph:

Having a race-baiting, Muslim-banning, pussy-grabbing, narcissistic sociopath as president of the United States is not funny. But we can use humor as a weapon against him. As Mel Brooks famously said of a different real-life fascist clown who bullied his way into power, comedy can cut men like this down to size, robbing them of their “power and myths.”

In the piece, I discuss books by Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, Lewis Carroll, Norton Juster, Florence Parry Heide, Julius Lester, Rowboat Watkins, Toby Speed, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  So, yes, the essay is in no way comprehensive.  It is instead suggestive, offering ways of thinking about humor and resistance.

Horn Book May-June 2017: photo

Back in the fall, Roger Sutton asked if I’d contribute to The Horn Book‘s upcoming special issue on humor.  I thought: sure, that might be fun.  After all, by the time my essay was due, the election would be over, Hillary Clinton would be president, and we’d all be in a better mood.  So, I agreed to write the piece.

Well, to paraphrase Mose Allison, it didn’t turn out that way. No matter what those pollsters said, it just didn’t turn out that way.

So, I wrote this instead.

If you pick up this issue of The Horn Book, you also get…

  • three Niblings in one issue!  Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson have a piece on their late friend and collaborator, Peter D. Sieruta.
  • Lisa Yee on the expectation of being funny, which you can also read on the Horn Book‘s website.
  • Lisa Brown, rewriting the classics to make them funny.
  • many articles by people not named Lisa.
  • jokes, sprinkled throughout the issue.
  • cover art by Jon Agee.

You can see a full table of contents here.

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