I am a first responder.
My immediate family includes a firefighter, two nurses, and a police officer. So I mean no disrespect when I say that, as a political cartoonist and a teacher, I am also a first responder. My roles are essential to averting disaster, for while my relatives respond to preserve human lives, I respond to preserve the human spirit. I tend to the wounds of civilization, trying to prevent further devastation.
The descent into tyranny is usually precipitated by collective ignorance, lack of humility, and the inability to detect hypocrisy, all trends that run antithetical to satire and education. As a satirist and educator, I respond to the early detection of society’s diseases, often evidenced by a lack of civility and knowledge. In fact, on 9/11, I was literally in the classroom teaching about world history and resistance movements. When some of my peers and students enlisted in the military in the days that followed, I had an epiphany that education is the best way of fighting terrorism. I have spent the past 20 years teaching about different cultures and narratives, teaching empathy and acceptance.
Political humorists are uniquely qualified to identify the early warnings of authoritarianism. Put crudely, they have heightened BS detectors. This is why dictatorships try to destroy them. In the earliest days of the German invasion of France in 1914, political cartoonists were among the first to be rounded up. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, and Stalin persecuted the hell out of them, and terrorists have assassinated them in recent years. One thing tyrants simply cannot handle is people laughing at them. Trump is only the most immediate and insecure incarnation of this phenomenon.
Humor and education are at once destabilizing and empowering. We are in a fight that will likely never end. Statues of cartoonists and teachers will never out-populate those of soldiers or firefighters, partially because, if we do our jobs correctly, we have provoked lots of people. But we are essential workers, essential to cultivating freedom and empathy in tomorrow’s civilization.
Join me in laughing and learning. It’s far, far more important than you might think.