While researching for an upcoming conference paper on transnational Nicaraguan twinning links – the United States is the apparently one of the few Western countries that calls these relationships “sister cities” – I came across two very interesting political cartoons. Both images, published in the Whitby Free Press, an independent press operating an hour from the heart of Toronto, depicted 1980s world leaders in a less than flattering light.
The above image shows U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – the father of Current PM Justin Trudeau – and Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov playing video games in an arcade. Reagan and Andropov are both playing a game labeled The Day After, a reference to the TV movie of the same name that premiered earlier that year and captured popular attention due to its graphic depictions of the horrors of nuclear war. It is also a reference to the increased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the “Second Cold War” of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The cartoon, which draws attention to the increasingly dangerous and apocalyptic contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, pokes fun at Trudeau’s dovishness and desire for detente between the superpowers, showing the prime minister playing a peaceful game as represented by hearts and a dove. Although he did not engineer it, Trudeau’s cooperative approach ultimately won out as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union warmed in the final years of the Cold War.
The second image makes light of Reagan’s age – he was the oldest elected president of the United States – and shows him sleeping while holding a bottle of Geritol and riding a horse backwards. Although a rather funny cartoon, it highlighted a significant issue of the Reagan presidency. By his second term as president, Reagan demonstrated signs of significant mental decline, often forgetting important details about his own policies. At the time, many of the president’s critics blamed his “forgetfulness” on political intransigence, especially in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal and the subsequent questions concerning Reagan’s role in the illicit arms deals. However, today most scholars believe that Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, which affected the president’s ability to govern in his second term. It is likely that his forgetfulness was less a ploy and more a result of his declining mental state. The president is also holding a jar of jelly beans, which, as we all know, was his favorite snack. At the time, this cartoon was meant to highlight the absurdity of Reagan’s final years in office. However, the cartoon also unintentionally serves to humanize Reagan by addressing his struggle with Alzheimer’s. My own grandmother is dealing with memory loss and, despite my opinions of Reagan’s policies, which aren’t good, I can not help but feel sorry him.