In 1987, when Garry Trudeau first began ridiculing Donalt Rump, his presidential ambitions, and his soaring ego, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, the real estate mogul was flattered at Doonesbury’s attention. Later, maybe not so much, as Trudeau ridiculed him over his treatment of wives and other women, employees and other underlings — and, in general, most anyone (everyone?) he deemed beneath him.
Said Trump on one occasion in late 1988 when it was beginning, finally — after more than a year — to get to him: “There are 210 million people in this country. Why’s he have to keep putting me in his strip month after month?”
“Actually,” Trump said as Trudeau’s persecution of him continued, “I don’t read his stuff. You know, I did pretty well in school, but for the life of me, I still can’t understand what Doonesbury is all about.
“They say Trudeau is somewhat clever,” the Trumpet continued, “but I’d venture to say that most people are like me: they don’t comprehend what Trudeau’s trying to achieve with Doonesbury either.”
“He’s always been impossible to ignore,” Trudeau told Cavna in an interview posted on last summer (July 5, when Chris Christie was still a viable possibility). “It’s like having a big, clanking cowbell installed in your head. I’ve just written four Sundays in a row about Trump, which is insane.
“I figured he’d eventually run,” Trudeau went on, "especially after he got a taste of double-digit poll numbers with his birther campaign. But I also assumed he’d quickly drop out after he’d maximized the promotional value.”
Said Cavna: “It’s easy to forget that many of the headlines surrounding Donald Trump’s current campaign were strikingly foreshadowed. But a stroll down the past three decades of Doonesbury can read like a road map to the billionaire’s 2016 candidacy.”
Then he lists the checkpoints:
A Trump run for president? Check. Doonesbury first had that covered nearly 30 years ago.
Campaign references to Trump as sexual being? Double-check. The comic strip was dishing that satire back in the last millennium.
Trump University shenanigans? You betcha. Cartoonist Trudeau was on the case more than a decade ago.
And Trudeau’s new book, Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump shows the degree to which The Donald himself has been telling us for decades what was on his long horizon. Herewith, we cull excerpts from Cavna’s interview with Trudeau.
“By 1987,” Trudeau said to Cavna, “he’d already made himself a risible figure in New York. But he was completely harmless, fodder for Spy magazine. The ads were the first ‘uh-oh’ moment and my response was a kind of reflexive, prophylactic slap-down. The grandiosity was so over-the-top that it would have been comedy malpractice to ignore it. Of course, now we know he was playing the long game. I’m sorry I missed that.”
Cavna: You call Trump an “a–hole.” Are a–holes any easier to satirize — kind of like how good actors are drawn to playing villains?
Trudeau: Absolutely. “A–hole” has a very particular meaning, one that is universally understood. The a–hole is a demeaning, abrasive bully who takes all the credit and assigns all the blame to others. In my lifetime, we’ve had several presidents who’ve disappointed us; we’ve had a crook, a warmonger, some philanderers, but we’ve never actually had a president who’s a total a–hole. This is where I fundamentally got it wrong; I assumed that the body politic would reject such a toxic personality. It’s also why I thought Chris Christie would fail to get traction. Now we face the distinct possibility of having not just one, but two a–holes on the same ticket. That’s how I much I know about politics.
Cavna: Has anything about Trump’s rise as a candidate changed your sense of much of the electorate?
Trudeau: Yes. I never imagined they could be so easily conned. Here’s what the people who love Trump don’t understand: he doesn’t love them back. I figured they’d be on to him by now. These are folks who feel anxious and left behind by the new economy. Many are struggling. Trump has a word for such people: losers. And he’s never had time for losers. He doesn’t have time to sit in their kitchens and go to their barbecues and listen to their problems. True, losers in the aggregate — say 12,000 at a time — get him to where he wants to be. But he’s always one squirt of Purell away from getting back on his plane so he can sleep in his penthouse. Never has an electorate been held in more contempt by its putative champion.
Cavna: What is your single favorite aspect about Trump for cartoon skewering?
Trudeau: Probably his use of language. An analysis by USA Today concluded that he uses a fourth-grade vocabulary in his speeches, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t inventive. Who else uses phrases like “nasty with lies” or “win with the military” or “that I can tell you”? I don’t do much to tweak his speech mannerisms — I’m more of a stenographer — but there is some art to reconfiguring it for satiric purposes...
Drawing Trump is a journey, not a destination. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer his hair ever since it was brown, well before he set it on fire to run for president. All cartoonists draw Trump differently because we each have a different understanding of how he achieves his effects, especially now that he’s of a certain age. He’s been melting for some time now, so we’re now down to hulking, gilded bloat and it ain’t pretty. But someone has to draw it.
Cavna: Among the many political candidates you’ve covered and mocked over 46 years, where does Trump rank in that illustrious field?
Trudeau: I can’t really compare Trump to other political figures because they’re all relatively normal human beings. Trump, on the other hand, is an actual toon, and I’ve always treated him as such. He’s just another character in my strip, and the rest of the cast regard him as a peer. I didn’t have to change a thing.