I have kids, so I’ve seen Disney’s Pocahontas movie. Who was Pocahontas? Hard to know for sure, since no record of her own words exists. Based on historical consensus, she was a courageous peace-maker who saved a white man from peril. From the movie, our culture’s most recent (if distorted) reference-point, we can infer she was also free-spirited and loyal.
By referring to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” Donald Trump’s intent was clearly demeaning, and yet when we we think of the historical caricature that Pocahontas embodies, I think most Americans don’t hear the childish and bigoted slur Trump intended, but instead picture the noble character from popular culture whom they know and love.
Once Trump got me thinking about historical caricatures, it was hard to stop. Scrooge McDuck, the Grinch, Simon Legree, Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, and Rich Uncle Pennybags (the Monopoly mascot) all came to mind. Wealthy, entitled white guys (plus ducks and monsters) who trod over others to enrich themselves, and bragged about it. “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it,” drawled the real-life Pennybags, JP Morgan.
The eager-to-foreclose Mr. Potter is a decent proxy for Trump, whose purported kinship with the working class masks the utterly cynical con job known as Trump University, which preyed on the elderly and uneducated. So is Simon Legree, whose dehumanization of African-Americans echoes through each of Trump’s applause lines that stir racial hate and demean people of color.
Meanwhile, I’ll take Pocahontas as a proxy for Elizabeth Warren – and Hillary Clinton too. A natural diplomat saving white men from peril? It fits based on how little we know about the real Pocahontas at least. Until this century history was written by the Trumps and for the Trumps. The voices of women and people of color were absent; when they appeared as characters in stories, it was as puppets in an all-white, mostly male narrative. Much like the narrative spinning in Donald Trump’s head.
Here’s where reality comes in. We don’t live in the past, or in a Disney cartoon. In 2016, you can’t silence women or people of color with slurs and taunts. Hillary Clinton is making history, and future generations will know her words as well as we know those of the 43 men who were President before her. They will know Elizabeth Warren, Senator and true warrior for the working class. Women can’t be reduced to two-dimensional caricatures any more, and no one-dimensional cartoon blow-hard can stop our rise.