Cartoon: Real America vs The Coastal Elites

This strip was drawn by Becky Hawkins.

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I was a bit surprised when Becky told me she was excited about drawing this one, because – looking at the script – it seemed visually unexciting to me. It’s just a guy talking to the reader for four panels, I thought.

I didn’t get it until Becky showed me her roughs for this strip, which blew me away. It hadn’t remotely occurred to me to use the backgrounds like that – it was 100% Becky’s idea – and I absolutely love it.  It’s so much fun to have a collaborator who I trust to make up her own things to add to these strips.

I asked Becky if she remembered where the idea came from, and she said, “I like drawing buildings and hadn’t done an exaggerated “big bad city” before. So I pictured how fun it would be to draw a ridiculously cute old timey small town main street and an almost abstract caricature of an urban hellhole.”

I still do the lettering and word balloons on the strips Becky draws. When it came time to letter this strip, my first step was finding words to cut from panel 3, since fewer words meant covering up less of Becky’s art. Then I did a word balloon that closely followed the shape of the letters, which isn’t a style I usually love, but it did cover up much less than an ordinary balloon would have.

Becky finds references through online searching and through exploring on Google Streetview. Here are a couple of the many reference photos she used when drawing this strip.



Becky’s reference folder also contains several photos of Hillbilly Elegy author and current Senate candidate and Trump suck-up, J.D. Vance. It was Becky’s idea to base the character’s appearance on Vance.


Becky can’t remember why she changed the character’s hair to blonde, but I think it really helps him pop out from the backgrounds.

The subject of this strip is something that’s annoyed me for so many years – the constant right-wing complaints that blue-staters are snobs who make fun of red-staters. To make this case, the same few quotes are recycled endlessly. Earlier this month I read a conservative fuming about Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” comment – which Obama said in 2008, thirteen years ago.

Meanwhile, conservatives constantly trash blue states – and in particular, cities and the people living in them – in much harsher terms. Not just random conservatives, either – important conservative leaders, including President Trump (who has spent most of his life living in New York City, but I think that he’s forgetting about that and frankly most New Yorkers are happy to forget that too).

I’ve sometimes been accused of attacking strawmen in my strips. To show that this strip is not attacking strawman, I’ll be pasting some relevant quotes at the end of this post.


This cartoon has four panels, plus an additional tiny “kicker” panel under the fourth panel. Each panel shows the same man talking directly at the reader. He has neatly combed blonde hair with a full beard, and is wearing boots, jeans, and a bright red button-up shirt with a brown vest over it. His outfit says “rural salt of the earth by way of L.L. Bean.”


The man is talking cheerfully to the readers, one forefinger raised to make a point. Behind him, we can see a street lined with stores or businesses; the buildings are  all one or two stories tall, a bit quaint, and all but scream “small town charm.”

MAN : I tink the best of America is in the small towns – the wonderful little pockets of what I call The Real America.


The same man, but now he’s suddenly standing in front of an enormous pile of garbage; we can make out a few things in the pile, like a fish skeleton, a concrete block, a wishbone, and a pile of poop. Rising up behind the garbage pile, we can see a group of ugly brown high-rise apartment buildings. A large plume of smoke (we can’t see from what) rises into the sky.

MAN: Elite liberals are destroying American with their terrible “New York” values. That’s why their cities are burnt-out shells!


The man is suddenly much closer to the viewer, yelling, his eyes large and bulging. Behind him we can see a chaotic jumble of big-city ills: A red-eyed rat, buildings on fire, a grocery cart filled with someone’s possessions in bags, a syringe, another pile of poop, and a person wearing a mask and a black hoodie who is about to throw a flaming Molotov cocktail.



The man is suddenly on a bucolic, hilly farm. A sheep lies on the ground, munching the green grass,  and there’s a black-spotted cow wearing a bell around it’s neck. Further back, we can see a classic red barn with a grain silo beside it, and a hill that’s been tilled and has some crop growing. The man, no longer in tight close-up, is grasping his hands together and looking a bit upward, almost like he’s praying; he has a sad expression, and a single tear falls from one eye.

MAN: And why do coastal elite snobs say such hateful things about their fellow Americans?


Barry the cartoonist, raising a finger to make a point, is talking to the man from the strip. The man has a “I’m so above this nonsense” smug expression, eyes closed.

BARRY: Don’t you live in a coastal city? And didn’t you go to Harvard?

MAN: In my heart I’ve always lived on a farm.

Some quotes that inspired this cartoon.

(There’s nothing else left in this post, so you can skip the rest if you’re not interested in the quotes!)

Some of these quotes are very recent, and some extend back as far as the 2008 presidential campaign. There are many similar quotes which I’m not including here, but I think this is enough to make my point.

* * *

“As I travel the country here in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, everyone knows what New York values are,” Cruz told ABC News White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl minutes after delivering his victory speech. “It’s the values of the elite liberals that have done enormous damage to New York and they’re a bunch of cops and firemen and hardworking men and women in the great state of New York who are fed up with the out-of-touch values of Manhattan.

* * *

If there was one clear theme to emerge from the Republican National Convention, it was President Donald Trump’s firmly-held belief that whatever ails American cities is the fault of Democratic control. In some ways, his attack last year on Baltimore as “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” was just a warm-up. Now, he’s calling himself the “law and order” candidate and in his acceptance speech vowed to crack down on “rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities.”

* * *

“God bless real Michigan. God bless real America. God bless the greatest president in our lifetime, Donald Trump,” Ted Nugent recently declared at a Michigan rally.

It’s ironic that Donald Trump, the first president born and raised in New York City — or any major city — since Teddy Roosevelt, has hitched his presidency to the idea that “real America” is not to be found in urban areas.

Real America — a term beloved by Richard Nixon — probably tops the long list of conservative catchphrases capturing the sense of grievance dominating so much of the right these days.

* * *

“Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!”

—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2019

* * *

We first started hearing about “real America” from Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign.

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

The inverse of that sentiment is what drove this tweet from Matt Drudge yesterday.

FINAL TALLY: Trump won by 3 MILLION votes outside California, New York…

— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) December 21, 2016

In other words, California and New York don’t qualify as “real America.” And so, if you discount their votes…Trump wins.

* * *

“Speaking of failing badly, has anyone seen what is happening to Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco. It is not even recognizable lately,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Something must be done before it is too late. The Dems should stop wasting time on the Witch Hunt Hoax and start focusing on our Country!”

Trump went after Rep. John Lewis, who represents part of Atlanta, for pledging not to attend his inauguration in 2017. Trump wrote on Twitter that the city “is in horrible shape and falling apart.”

“Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.,” he added in another tweet. “I can use all the help I can get!”

* * *

On Saturday, for instance, McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer suggested that although northern Virginia may have “gone more Democratic,” “real Virginia” (the “part of the state that’s more Southern in nature”) will be “very responsive” to McCain. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) joined the chorus, telling the crowd at a McCain rally, “Liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.”

Hayes, like Palin, later forswore his remarks, but on Tuesday in western Pennsylvania — one of the few parts of the state where Barack Obama doesn’t hold a clear lead — McCain worked the same theme: Western Pennsylvania “is the most God-loving, most patriotic part of America.”

This cartoon on Patreon

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2 Responses to Cartoon: Real America vs The Coastal Elites

  1. 1
    Em says:

    The whole idea of “real America” and “fake America” is trash. America is a huge, diverse country, and no part of it is any less American than any other. Big cities are high crime simply because they have more people. There are other factors, too, but it’s mainly just population density. I’ve lived in a small Ohio city most of my life, the biggest city in the middle of a rural county, so there are a variety of political views. But even in the most rural towns there are democrats, and even in the biggest cities there are conservatives. This reminds me of your comic about the heartland interviews. I love the art on this as well. Well, I probably won’t be able to come back here until after Christmas break, so happy holidays and a happy new year to all!

  2. 2
    Kate says:

    Big cities are high crime simply because they have more people.

    Yup, per capita, only two of the ten safests states are consistently red states (Idaho and Wyoming). One is a swing state (Maine). The rest were considered solidly blue in 2020 (New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island and Hawaii).
    Conversely, only one of the most dangerous states is solidly blue (New Mexico). Two are swing states (Arizona and Michigan). The remainder are all solidly red (Alaska, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota).