ONCE UPON a campaign, according to the humorous truth of Pulitzer-winning artist Mike Luckovich, he and his cartooning colleagues reveled in having Donald J. Trump around as a political piñata. As we approach the midpoint of a first term, is the commentator still so thrilled about devoting so much of his professional life to President Trump?
“No, I describe it as marrying a nymphomaniac,” says Luckovich, the editorial cartoonist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Great at first, then becomes a nightmare.
“The last three presidents before Trump were all pretty normal,” continues Luckovich, and “drawing cartoons during their terms were easier. When you have someone so incompetent, absurd and crazy, it’s hard to top that in a cartoon.”
Luckovich does his daily best to top Trump’s tweets and tirades, though, as reflected in a new collection of his recent cartoons titled “A Very Stable Genius.”
It might be challenging to lampoon an over-the-top persona, but part of the public service of cartoons, Luckovich believes, is to help readers focus and not fall for distraction and misdirection.
“There’s so much nonsense and chaos, it’s hard to see what’s happening,” says Luckovich, who won his two Pulitzer Prizes during the Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations. “Cartoons can help, in a concise way, illustrate what’s happening through the chaff Trump’s delivering.
“Friends tell me that to maintain their sanity, they’ve quit following the news closely,” he continues. “Editorial cartoonists can’t do that. Sometimes I wish I could do that.”
That’s partly because Trump’s approach to Twitter, as well as his offhand remarks, feel more antic to the cartoonist than previous White Houses he lampooned — altering the artist’s own professional rhythms.
“Before Trump, I’d settle on a topic and come up with ideas,” he says. “Now, I realize that it’s usually best to wait awhile, because before the day’s out, Trump will probably do or say something even crazier than he said earlier.”
It’s not just Trump as an isolated figure, the artist emphasizes, but also the larger maelstrom of controversies that swirl around this White House.
“The size and amount of scandals is unrivaled in American history,” says Luckovich, noting that even as a satirist, “it isn’t fun.”
“You see someone without shame, trying to destroy the pillars of American democracy, and it’s sobering,” Luckovich believes. “I do think this is a very important time to be speaking out and defending the rule of law.”
Pointedly, the cartoonist contrasts Trump’s White House with that of the Watergate era.
“Early in my career, Nixon sent me a letter saying he liked my cartoons because they weren’t mean — fan mail from Nixon!” says Luckovich, who began his career in Greenville, S.C., and New Orleans in 1984. “Nixon was damaged and corrupt but was interested in policy. And if it weren’t for his failings, he could’ve been a great president.”
Trump, on the other hand, “makes Nixon look like Lincoln.”
Within Luckovich’s satiric tool kit, he often opts for hammering home certain impressions.
“One thing I try to show is that Trump’s a buffoon,” says the left-leaning cartoonist. “It amazes me that there’s a cult following around Trump. My hope is that if I ever fall under the sway of a cult leader, I hope he or she isn’t a huge doofus. That would be really embarrassing.”
Luckovich finds fault, too, with not just Trump loyalists but also some of his fellow cartoonists.
“Right-wing cartoonists are either supportive or silent about Trump’s corruption and authoritarianism,” he says. “If a democratic president behaved this way, I’d hope I’d put my country first.”
So as a cartoonist, what’s his dream scenario for a Trump presidency?
Says Luckovich: “It ends quickly.”