Today is the United States’ celebration of its independence — the Fourth of July. U.S. President Donald Trump has assembled a "salute to America" party for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with armoured tanks and other military vehicles on display.
The National Park Service has diverted nearly US$2.5 million in recreation and entrance fees to help cover the costs of the Independence Day celebration. That money was earmarked for improvements to parks across the country. Instead, the money will go toward what many say is a ticketed political event being paid for with taxpayer dollars. And it’s just a fraction of the overall cost of the event.
This military-style celebration is yet another entry in a long list of stories about the U.S. president that have become daily fodder in the American press.
It becomes hard to focus on what new circus event the media can cover, particularly given the diminished resources of the media in the United States, and in Canada, with its limited press corps for foreign reporting.
Which may explain why the image of a father with his 23-month-old daughter tucked under his shirt, drowned at the border crossing between the United States and Mexico, has not had nearly the same resonance as a picture of the body of the three-year-old toddler Alan Kurdi. Kurdi’s death in 2015 was covered extensively in newspapers around the world, and became a symbol of the crisis facing immigrants trying to escape Syria to Europe.
The bodies of 25-year-old Oscar Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria were found late last month in the Rio Grande. The mother, Tania Vanessa Avalos, attempted to cross the river as well and survived. The photo was captured by a Mexican journalist and published in La Jornada.
Even though the tragedy that befell the father and daughter was much like Kurdi’s untimely death, this story sparked little interest globally. That is, at least, until a gifted editorial cartoonist did what editorial cartoonists are supposed to do — he made that image of Ramirez and Valeria one that will not be forgotten, by incorporating it in an editorial cartoon some are calling Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
Michael de Adder, unfortunately, has now paid for that editorial cartoon.
As many of you already know, de Adder lost his contract with Brunswick News after publishing online his cartoon of President Trump outside his golf cart, looking down at the two bodies and asking, "Do you mind if I play through?" De Adder had not even submitted the cartoon to Brunswick News, because the company had stated its discomfort with his ongoing anti-Trump stance — something many have attributed to the family connection between Brunswick News and Irving Oil, which has interests in the United States.
Brunswick News has denied that allegation and has made it clear that it had decided to discontinue de Adder’s contract before the creation of this latest cartoon. For his part, de Adder says while he doesn’t think the cartoon in question is the sole reason he was cut loose by the chain, he does believe it was "the straw that broke the camel’s back."
No matter; as of last week, Brunswick News cancelled de Adder’s contract. He had been supplying the New Brunswick papers with editorial cartoons for 17 years.
So why should this matter to us?
First, editorial cartoons play an important role in expressing political points of view and are unbounded by the rules of journalistic objectivity. They convey an opinion and deliver necessary and often biting critiques of those in positions in power. Often, they are viewed first and more frequently than any other item on the editorial page, and they certainly have more staying power. They are the ultimate court jesters — and sometimes they are the ones stating most directly that the emperor has no clothes.
Second, even a hint of censorship because of fears of reprisal, either economically or politically, suggests that democracy is no longer working. Journalists, cartoonists and political columnists must feel free to speak out against political elites. There must be a discussion of ideas. It may not always be pretty, but there needs to be transparency about what government is doing. When someone is fired for doing that, everyone pays a price.
Which brings me back full circle to America’s Independence Day celebration, with a president who has called for tanks in the National Mall, as well as the demonization of the media as "enemies of the people," detention of individuals — including children — in migrant camps that many objective observers describe as inhumane, and open veneration of despots and tyrants. On this Fourth of July, what exactly are you celebrating?
Shannon Sampert is a political scientist.