Are we doomed to live in a political age of ever-increasing cartoonism? Perhaps not. After all, the original cartoons—Raphael’s cartoons for the tapestries intended for the Sistine Chapel, for example—were preparatory sketches for works of fine art. Political cartoons at their best point beyond themselves to fundamental issues and choices.
But when we descend from a politics with cartoonish touches to a politics of cartoonism, we become unmoored. Conservatism in particular suffers, since so many conservative arguments are appeals to reality against wishfulness and oversimplification. That’s why those conservatives who have tried to excuse Trump’s cartoonism by claiming that it’s an understandable response to Obama’s have damaged conservatism more than Obama has damaged liberalism. But the deeper damage has been to our political health and to the cause of self-government. We will spend much of the next four years arguing about liberalism and conservatism. But the more important task may be to lift ourselves up from cartoonism.