Monday, December 28, 2020 : By Nathan Skates
The Washington Post has drawn criticism for publishing a political cartoon by Ann Telnaes depicting Republicans as rats. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident by Telnaes or the Post. In fact, it is a disturbing trend.
The Washington Post recently ran a cartoon by editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes that depicted more than 100 Republicans as scheming rats. The cartoon, titled “All the Republican rats,” featured a name next to each “rat” and took up nearly an entire page of the paper. Telnaes described the cartoon as “All of the state attorneys general and U.S. Congress members who collaborated with President Trump in his attempt to subvert the Constitution and stay in office.” The cartoon drew criticism due to the historical context of Nazi propaganda that dehumanized Jews before sending them as a group to death camps. One cartoon does not a propagandist make, but unfortunately, this is a practice by both the Post and Telnaes that has now crossed a line, regardless of their intentions.
The Washington Post is anything but a bastion of conservatism, but it is still considered an institution of journalism despite its hatred for President Trump. That makes their willingness to run such cartoons a concern.
With this latest cartoon likening Republicans to treacherous and scheming rats, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Ann Telnaes has been accused of dehumanizing Republicans in a way similar to Nazi propaganda. In an email, the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper told CBN News, “Beyond belief! The Washpost editorial page publishes cartoon dehumanizing Republicans as rats? That’s what Der Sturmer did in the 1930s. What are 150 million+ voters on both sides of the political divide to make when a flagship of journalism mainstreams imagery introduced by Nazis, then refined by Soviet Union to demonize the enemy?
Steve Milloy, founder of JunkScience, tweeted a picture of the cartoon next to a Nazi propagandist cartoon depicting Jews as rats.
In Telnaes’ and the Post’s defense, political cartoons are supposed to be provocative, and if you believe that a group of politicians is trying to subvert the Constitution and unfairly change the results of an election, such a cartoon might be historically tone-deaf but is at least within the bounds of satire. The problem is, this is not the first time the pair have run such a cartoon. In fact, it’s becoming almost routine.
The Daily Wire cited previous cartoons by Telnaes and the Post depicting Republicans as rats, and those images are still on the Washington Post’s website and Telnaes’ Facebook page. On November 2, Telnaes depicted supporters of Trump as rats, on December 2, she depicted then-Attorney General William Barr as a rat, and on December 11, she depicted the GOP as rats.
In January, she and the Post suggested that the symbol of the Republican party should be changed from an elephant to a rat. In April 2019, she depicted Trump as the devil. She has also likened Trump supporters to rats and vultures.
In 2015, Telnaes infamously depicted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s young daughters as monkeys. The Washington Post originally ran the cartoon, but after drawing criticism retracted it. Telnaes defended the cartoon, claiming that Cruz used his daughters as “political props” in a video, so they were “fair game.”
The Atlantic published an article in April 2019 by Kennedy Ndahiro, editor of The New Times in Rwanda, about the threat of dehumanizing language. The article discusses how leading up to the genocide against Tutsis, they were referred to as “vermin” and “cockroaches” by media. This dehumanizing language eventually led to calls for Hutus to murder their Tutsi neighbors, which they did, eventually slaughtering an estimated 800,000 people. The Atlantic is a left-leaning publication, who likely ran the article to criticize Trump for “dehumanizing language,” yet it is the left who routinely dehumanizes its opponents.
In fairness to the Post and Telnaes, this article is not suggesting that their intent is to dehumanize Republicans so that they can unleash genocide, but they are playing a dangerous game. After checking to see if Telnaes had previously created cartoons depicting Democrats as rats, nothing was found. Telnaes’ political persuasions are obvious in her flattering cartoons of Democrats and liberals and repeated derogatory depictions of Republicans and conservatives, but there is no harm in political cartoonists reflecting their political views.
What is harmful is the disturbing trend of depicting people you disagree with as evil, corrupt, criminal, and subhuman. This has been done in a political climate where Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supported making lists of Trump supporters to go after once Trump is out of office.
Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters previously said, “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Celebrities have called for violence against and even the assassination of Trump, as well as said despicable things about his wife and children, including his teenage son, and his supporters.
This is a dangerous political climate and it has been further fueled by the media’s demonization of conservatives in general. In 2017, this led to real tragedy when a Democrat-supporting gunman opened fire on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice, hitting and nearly killing Rep. Steve Scalise. It is time to stop this rhetoric. Telnaes and the Washington Post don’t have to like Republican policies or even Republicans, but they must stop this practice of depicting their political opponents as subhuman. Anyone who has studied history knows how easily it can be used to justify a terrible and dark result.