Garry Trudeau on 30 years of Donald Trump

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

As the title suggests, cartoonist Garry Trudeau's "Yuge!," which came out in July, is a retrospective of 30 years' worth of "Doonesbury" comic strips about, you guessed it, Donald Trump. At the risk of Trump overload, we picked the cartoonist's brain via email about the GOP presidential candidate/reality star. After all, Trudeau did "predict" Trump's run for president back in 1999.

You've been doing "Doonesbury" for more than 45 years. After all those of years of studying American culture and politics, is there any big, single lesson you've learned?

Yes, I've learned that humans are hard-wired for community. Even coming out of the counterculture, I didn't appreciate that at first. I put my characters in a commune as a lifestyle choice, not out of essential need. So many of our woes can be traced back to the isolation of modern life. Privacy, in the sense of having no stake whatsoever in the lives of others, is totally overrated.

Last spring I read Sebastian Junger's "Tribe," which addressed the question of why the rate of PTSD is almost as great in non-combatant vets as it is in those who saw action. Junger's conclusion: Warriors form extraordinarily strong bonds in their units, in some cases, stronger than any they had in civilian life. When those bonds are dissolved after service, it can be extremely traumatizing. It turns out that the common good - the greater good of the tribe - is in our DNA. We're born liberal!

You've said in interviews that you don't recommend young cartoonists go into the newspaper comic strip business, but to pursue other mediums, particularly in the realm of satirical work. But I wonder if you still feel like something is lost, both from a cartooning perspective and a larger, cultural one, by the decline of newspapers.

Well, yes, but it's tough to strain out all the emotion from that conclusion. I love newspapers. I love paper and ink. I love the daily news cycle. I love the sense of community that newspapers can engender. I even love the company of editors. So I can't exactly watch the ongoing disruption with equanimity.

Do you see a way forward for both journalism and cartooning that is financially viable and able to grasp the larger public's attention, or are we permanently past that point?

If you mean print journalism, I think it's the latter, in part because even when digital natives take over print publications, they seem to flame out (although God knows I'm rooting for Bezos at theWashington Post). My fantasy for theNew York Times is that some benefactor buys it and permanently endows it, not to save its print edition, but to preserve its indispensable journalism. It's in the national interests for theTimes to be protected from the whims of the marketplace.

Rather famously (infamously?), you "predicted" Trump running for president. Did you ever think that was within the realm of possibility?

I'm afraid you're giving me too much credit. I didn't so much predict his eventual run as I did take note of his various head fakes (there were at least three). A Trump candidacy was unimaginable until 2012, when he polled in the high thirties on the strength of one issue - the birther lie. Of course, in a polarized, binary political environment, your mail carrier could poll in the high thirties, but I believe it was then that Trump first thought, "Hey, I can do this."

You recently came out with a retrospective of your Trump strips. It certainly feels prescient and worth looking back at, but I wonder if there was any hesitation to collect and publish those Trump strips, or did you, in a sense, feel it was your duty to show the same things people are saying about him now you were talking about for three decades?

You're embarrassing me. I wish I could say I published the book out of "duty," but the better word is "opportunity." When you find yourself near a wave that big it's crazy not to paddle into it. What's surprising is that the book shot off so fast. I've published over 60 collections, and to my knowledge, none of my friends and family, who count on freebies, ever bought a copy. With "Yuge!" they're buying multiple copies and sending them to me to sign. And almost all these strips have appeared in previous volumes. I'm having a Zeitgeist moment, and I owe it all to Trump.

Do you buy into the narrative/conspiracy that Trump really doesn't want to win, that he initially ran as a publicity stunt?

No. That's what normal people call an "ulterior motive," which implies delayed gratification, of which Trump is incapable. When he says he wants to be in the White House, you have to believe it, because it's a very short neural pathway between his id and his mouth.

Have you learned anything new about Trump during this election?

I can't say I've learned much new, although certainly I've refined my understanding of how he communicates. He's taken up so much bandwidth in the last year, it'd be hard not to notice little details you missed back when he didn't dominate every news cycle.

What will you miss most about this election season?


Do you view Trump's run as a mere sign of the times or is it symptomatic of larger issues we can't hope will be swept away by his potential defeat?

A one-off. But that doesn't mean the GOP doesn't have a Herculean task of reconstruction ahead of it. All the china's been broken, and that's not even good for Democrats. We need at least two functioning, philosophically robust parties to make our system of government work.

As a satirist, you are, perhaps, a natural cynic, but is there any reason to be optimistic about the future of America? What gives you hope?

Actually, the satirist is not a natural cynic. He may be a skeptic, but baked into the merry mayhem he creates is the corollary that not everyone behaves badly, that there are civic norms, that we can do better. The satirist is a corrective, a form of social control. He says Trump is an asshole, but not all billionaires are, because you want to leave space for the Warren Buffetts, for the people who inspire hope. I've always had hope. I've always believed us to be on that long arc that bends toward justice. If I didn't, I'd have to find another line of work.

Wexner Center for the Arts

Garry Trudeau and Glen David Gold in conversation

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14

1871 N. High St., Campus