The Atlantic

Why Is Donald Trump So Hard to Caricature?

The 45th president should be an easy target for political cartoonists, but they’ve struggled to come up with an image that sticks.
Source: Bramhall / Bagley / Fish / Blitt / Craighead / Wheeler / Sack / Telnas

In October 2016, Vanity Fair made a video of four of its cartoonists—Edward Sorel, Steve Brodner, Philip Burke, and Robert Risko—drawing Donald Trump. They were clearly enjoying themselves, exploring every aspect of his physique: his “girth,” the fact that “there’s so much of him” (Burke); the hair that is “essentially a beret that is flipped forward on his head” (Risko); the eyes that show “greed, disdain” (Burke); the “marvelously ratlike” nose (Brodner); the mouth that is a “sphincter muscle” (Risko); the “sleazy” look (Sorel); the facial features that resemble “piss holes in the snow” (Brodner).

And now? How have artists and cartoonists been dealing with Trump since he became president? We’ve seen cartoons of the orange potus smooching Vladimir Putin and groping the Statue of Liberty. We’ve seen him drawn (by Barry Blitt in The New Yorker) as a fat-assed golfer driving balls into the White House. We’ve seen him caricatured (by Pat Oliphant for The Nib) as a preening SS officer being heiled by Steve Bannon. We’ve seen him portrayed (by Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News) linking arms with a Confederate and a Nazi. We’ve seen him depicted (by Mike Luckovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) as Jabba the Hutt, holding Lady Liberty in chains. We’ve seen him represented (by Matt Wuerker in Politico) as a kook in a straitjacket. We’ve seen him rendered (by Ann Telnaes of The Washington Post) as a red-faced fathead sitting on the toilet while he plots to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

But has any cartoon or drawing really riled Trump’s camp or given comfort to his foes the way Stephen Colbert’s regular pummeling on late-night television and Alec Baldwin’s impressions on Saturday Night Live do? Has any image proved indelible? I can’t think of any. Why is cartooning so tricky in the age of Trump?

Not long after Trump was elected, I went to the Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York, to of Richard M. Nixon, all from the early 1970s. I’d seen them before, but this time the work—featuring Nixon as a walking nose, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses, and Vice President Spiro Agnew as a triangle studded with nails—had new resonance. In one of the drawings, Nixon was a Ku Klux Klansman conferring with his hooded colleagues (you

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