For Kim Jong Un, there was "Rocket Man." For Sen. Marco Rubio, there was "Little Marco." For Sen. Ted Cruz, there was "Lyin' Ted." For his 2016 general election opponent, there was "Crooked Hillary." And that's just a tiny fraction of President Trump's nickname list. Now, we can add to it the nickname Trump gave Jeff Sessions — "Mr. Magoo," a cartoon character dating back to the '40s.
Younger generations may not be very familiar with Mr. Magoo, a creation from a group of animators and writers who infused their post-WWII cartoons with both a modern art sensibility and pretty radical political views. Mr. Magoo, created in 1949, is an elderly billionaire with seriously impaired vision, a physical limitation he adamantly refuses to acknowledge.
According to Jim Backus, the man who voiced Mr. Magoo, the cartoon character's comedy arises from the "difference between what he thinks he sees and reality as we see it.''
It could be a myopic tendency that prompted Trump to dub Sessions "Mr. Magoo," but those who have observed Trump over time will have witnessed his penchant for mocking people based on their appearance. Therefore, it seems at least as plausible that Trump plucked the vintage cartoon from pop culture due to a few physical similarities some may see between the attorney general and Mr. Magoo.
The political history of Mr. Magoo is one that, given his own biography and professed policy views, may not be known to Trump. Magoo was designed by animators who had left their jobs at Disney after being barred from unionizing. Ideologically, they were defiantly against the contemporaneous McCarthyism that targeted anyone with Communist views. And they meant the "crotchety" Magoo to stand in for the corporate and destructive pitfalls they saw in the society of 1950s America.
Magoo is a billionaire. So is Trump. Magoo represents corporate interests. Many posit that Trump's policies do exactly the same. Magoo tends to put the people around him in peril, while remaining himself curiously free of the consequences of his actions. For those willing to consider Trump's many business dealings and declared bankruptcies, it could be argued he has exhibited Magoo-like tendencies in his professional life. For the casualties of his political career, one need look no further than the record rate at which employees of his administration resign or are forced out.
Ironically, Trump himself bears some not-subtle similarities with Mr. Magoo, shared characteristics he may or may not be aware of. Regardless, he clearly meant the nickname as an insult to Sessions. And it's not the first time the two have been in public conflict.
The first sign of trouble in the relationship between Trump and Sessions came in July 2017. Trump had been president for roughly six months at that point, and questions about his campaign's possible connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election were not going away. After news came out that Sessions had essentially misled Congress under oath about his contact with Russian officials (he said he'd had none during Trump's campaign; in reality, he'd had at least two points of contact), Sessions recused himself from the investigation.
In response, Trump flat-out said he would have chosen a different attorney general had he known Sessions would step down from the investigation. He described Sessions' move as "unfair" to the president. He went on to call the attorney general "beleaguered" on Twitter. Later, Trump would call Sessions' position "VERY weak" on investigating Hillary Clinton's emails.
Most recently, Trump criticized Sessions again on Twitter, writing on Feb. 28 that the AG's decision to assign Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to look into the FISA warrant process was "DISGRACEFUL!" Trump dinged the inspector general as "an Obama guy," suggesting there was therefore little chance of a fair investigation.
Sessions responded by defending himself, issuing a statement that said they'd "initiated the appropriate process" and promising to "discharge my duties with integrity and honor... in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution." He also went to dinner with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, a move described as "an act of solidarity" against the president's almost certain desire to fire Sessions.
If one of the defining features of Mr. Magoo is his ability to survive dangerous situations with no personal injury, Trump might want to pay more attention to his nickname for Sessions. Because in this latest tiff with the president, it looks like the current attorney general may just have the upper hand.