Thomas Nast, the 19th century political cartoonist who, even today, remains the most famous practitioner of the "jugular art," drew the first full realization of the two enduring symbols of our two major political parties, the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. The elephant and donkey had a good long run, but, in the context of the 2016 presidential campaign, they are more anachronistic than accurate.
At a time when the
And does the Democratic donkey have any meaning for the millions of people who voted for Bernie Sanders? He, himself, is a newbie Democrat and many of his supporters — including a big share of his delegates at the
Cartoonists who employ the elephant and donkey as props (and, yes, I do that — sparingly) now too often find themselves in the well-populated camp of journalists who parrot conventional wisdom and, thereby, fail to describe what is really going on. Those who cling to cliches did not recognize until very late the two biggest stories of the presidential primary campaign: the seriousness of
The parties are no longer the unitary entities they once were. To describe the American political world in 2016, it takes more than elephants and donkeys.
On the left, the primary demarcation line is between traditional liberals, such as Hillary Clinton,
The right is even more fraught and fractured. On the extreme is the Alt Right — the gaggle of anti-establishment, Internet-trolling, hyper-nationalist, immigrant-bashing, white-identity activists who are an embarrassment to mainline Republicans, but who see a kindred soul in Trump. There are the
Add to that the big money donors whose main political interest is protecting their own wealth and the Republican elected officials who generally cater to the needs of those donors, mix in the gun rights zealots, the conservative think tanks, a horde of talk radio hosts,
Of course, the American political scene has never been quite as clearly defined as cartoons of donkeys and elephants implied. When Nast himself initially latched on to the donkey as a symbol (it had been around since the days when Andrew Jackson's enemies labeled him a "jackass"), he used it to caricature just one faction of Democrats, the northern "Copperheads." But, in less riven times, the two animals were a useful shorthand.
In 2016, though, political cartoonists need an entire menagerie.