Political cartoons fight Trump’s hate with hate

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Donald Trump has degraded a lot of people on his climb to the nomination, but his ignorance and prejudice isn’t what this article is about. It’s about the ignorance and prejudice of the people trying to stop him.

Throughout most of history, people have used humor to combat those in political power, and the political cartoonists of today have been keeping that noble tradition alive, with Trump supplying plenty of ammunition. Most of these comics are brilliant, but there are quite a few bad apples mixed in that make my laughter go sour. Somehow, in their rush to highlight the way Trump stigmatizes and demonizes whole groups of people they’ve decided it’s okay to demonize the mentally ill.

The comic that illustrates this point most eloquently ran on last month, and depicts Trump sitting in a padded cell, bound in a straight jacket and shouting phrases like, “Ban Muslims!” and “Build a wall!.”

While Trump’s characterization of all Muslims as terrorists and all Mexican immigrants as criminals that need to be kept out of the United States is deplorable, implying that these are the kinds of things people in mental hospitals say is also damaging. It depicts the mentally ill as hateful and down right dangerous, which, firstly, is far from the truth and, secondly, plays into and reinforces stereotypes of mental illness that need to be torn down.

The comic also uses the straight jacket and padded cell to undercut what Trump is saying and imply that no one should take him seriously since they are just the ramblings of a crazy person. Again, this reinforces damaging ideas about the mentally ill. Mentally ill people deserve to be listened to, and implying otherwise fortifies an existing culture that often leaves them excluded, taken advantage of, or ignored.

This trend in political cartoons in not just a fringe phenomenon. The Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial Cartoonist Clay Bennett, who, according to the Times Free Press website, has “won almost every honor his profession has to offer” including a Pulitzer Prize, has published several of these offensive cartoons. One I found particularly striking,published last week in the Times Free Press, depicts two prescription bottles, one for Clinton and one for Trump. Clinton’s bottle bears the label “Antibiotics” while Trump’s says “Antipsychotics,” the implication being that Clinton’s physical health troubles are better than Trump’s tendency to act erratically and do stupid things.

However, the comic also says that people shouldn’t vote for someone who takes antipsychotics. It simultaneously supports the destruction of barriers to the presidency by endorsing Clinton, the first female nominee for a major political party, and builds barriers for anyone who takes medicine for a mental illness. In addition, it automatically attaches a negative connotation to antipsychotics and the people who take them, even though antipsychotics treat a whole range of disorders, many of which have absolutely no effect on other people and just make it harder for the afflicted person to function, and none of which automatically make someone bigoted, hateful, or dangerous.

Subtle putdowns and insults toward the mentally ill have not been restricted to political cartoons and newsprint. They jump off the page every time someone says Trump is insane, or should be locked in a mental hospital. Think about how often you’ve heard someone say that. Now think about what it’s like to hear that when you’ve been in a mental hospital.

As a woman who struggles with mental illness, I’ve been getting mixed messages from this election. I’ve watched Clinton shatter a glass ceiling that existed for every generation of women before me, but I’ve also heard again and again that people like me, the mentally ill, cannot be trusted in politics, should be ignored, and are automatically dangerous.

I honestly love seeing political cartoonists taking up the pen against Trump. I firmly believe that humor is one of the best weapons we have, particularly against those in power. But in our fight against the powerful we need to be careful not to victimize people who are already victims.