Joel Pett’s Sunday cartoon, which showed Attorney General candidate Daniel Cameron hanging on the KKK robes of President Donald Trump, provoked a social media uproar. Predictably, prominent Republicans like Scott Jennings called the cartoon racist for questioning why the only black candidate in the election was tying himself so closely to Trump. Cameron tweeted out the cartoon and dismissed “elites.”
The cartoon was harsh, uncomfortable, provocative, exaggerated and outrageous, as editorial cartoons are supposed to be. It’s also true that Cameron, who is black, advertises his endorsement from and ties to Trump, who has proven for the past three years, and before, that he’s racist. With Trump, it’s both what he says and what he does that shows his bigotry, not just toward black Americans, but Mexicans, Muslims, anyone who comes from “sh--hole” countries that he wants to block from entering the U.S. As Pett inscribed on Trump’s sign, you can point to Trump’s views on the Central Park 5, birtherism, telling Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to “go home”, the Muslim ban, the “fine people” on either side of the Charlottesville riots.
But I thought the most thought-provoking reaction to Pett’s cartoon came from Louisville Courier-Journal political reporter Phillip Bailey, who is black and covers the nearly all-white political scene of Kentucky. He said on Twitter: “My issue with the cartoon is that it conveys how the burden of calling out racism is for black folk exclusively.” As he pointed out, other Kentucky politicians like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Andy Barr have stronger relationships to Trump, so why not show them hanging on his KKK robe? Bailey has also scolded gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear for failing to decry Trump’s treatment of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib.
I asked Pett this question and he was blunt: “We should hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to calling out anybody in power. You’d have to be crazy ambitious or blind to overlook Trump’s racism.”
Also, Pett pointed out, he’s already drawn cartoons calling out both Gov. Matt Bevin and McConnell for their blind adherence to Trump and the racist policies of the Republican Party.
I think it would have been a stronger cartoon had some of these other Kentucky politicians who tie themselves so ardently to Trump had been hanging on that bedsheet. If they are against racism, as they claim, then they should call Trump out every time he lets fly with another abhorrent tweet. They should prove they are better than he is, and better than many Republican dog whistles that have populated campaigns for the past few decades. But why are the Republicans who are so offended by this cartoon not equally offended by Trump’s original words?
The Republican Party started as the party of Lincoln, then Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, when Southern Democratic politicians legalized white supremacy in the South. But all that changed when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in 1964 and 1965. Southern Democrats started to defect to the Republican Party; by 1980, when Ronald Reagan gave a speech about states’ rights outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, the South had begun its red majority, joined at the hip with a national party increasingly tied to its opposition on issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform.
“It’s bad enough to be a black Republican because of the racial injustice in that party,” said Adrian Wallace, chairman of the Kentucky NAACP political action committee. “It’s even worse to be a Donald Trump Republican, and that’s what this cartoon is highlighting.”
Rev. C.B. Akins, the pastor of Bracktown Baptist Church and a Lexington community leader, declined to comment directly on the cartoon but said it’s fair to question where Cameron’s loyalties lie. Akins said he has met with Cameron twice in lengthy meetings.
“I do not believe he has the interests of marginalized people even remotely on his mind,” Akins said. “He proudly espouses the tenets of his idols — Mitch McConnell, Mitch’s boss Donald Trump and Trump’s sycophant Matt Bevin. I perceive no ability or willingness to think on his own ... I have no confidence that Daniel would vanquish the interests of his handlers for the greater good.”
In later posts, Bailey also pointed out that the time has come to look beyond who is supposed to say what. “Whites can and should speak to civil rights, voter suppression and police abuse. Men can and should speak to the wage gap, rape culture and sexual assault. Straight people can and should speak to #LBGTQ discrimination.”
That also goes for who is supposed to vote for whom; it’s a mistake to assume that all black people are Democrats or that they should be. It’s just that we’re in an extraordinary situation with a president who plays to his base with unveiled bigotry. Pett called that out, along with one politician whose silence is politically expedient. The only problem is Pett didn’t draw in the rest of the politicians who refuse to stand up to Trump. But he might have run out of room.