For four years, art and culture in the US has been utterly dominated by US President, Donald Trump. It certainly feels like it has been in the UK, too. It seems that every panel or talk-show host, British or American – from James Corden to Piers Morgan – mentions Trump incessantly; and you’ll struggle to find a comedian who hasn’t had a pop at him, either.
Whilst many films contain references to Trump, or rather, comment on the cultural environment he seems to have imbued, few seem to outright discuss the man’s presidency or even mention him. There is 2017’s Get Out’s now-infamous line from its patriarchal villain; “By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could.”, but no mention of who replaced Obama. Knives Out in 2019, holds subtler commentary on American life and attitudes towards migrant workers in the United States, yet avoids controversial or partisan statements. Even recent Blumhouse flick The Hunt, a movie which attracted flak from Trump himself for being apparently inflammatory and anti-Republican, fails to deliver much in the way of scathing critique.
Even recent British political satire, Spitting Image, levels banter at Trump with all the classic trappings of what has become essentially its own genre; the orange skin, the hair, tiny hands, and played as remarkably unintelligent – in one skit, the Sino-Indian border conflict is explained to Trump as a fight over a ‘big hamburger’. Trump and his actions have become their own trope, extenuating even to his more vile acts; just a few months ago, lead single from punk band IDLES’ recent album, ‘Mr. Motivator’, explicitly lists off a list of things considered ‘cliché’; including ‘grabbing Trump by the p*ssy’.
Why does the world of the arts not take Trump more seriously? Is this a ‘laugh or you’ll cry’ situation? It needs no reminding, but this is a president who has happily denied climate change, has been impeached, has ongoing allegations of sexual assault, has called BLM a hate movement, and openly told militias to ‘stand-by’ in the case of a rigged election – and has now gone on to actively declare that said election is, in fact, rigged, without evidence.
Yet, since the election, hilarious highlights have included Trump’s gaff press release at the Four Seasons. Not the well-known hotel, but a landscaping company situated between a funeral home and a sex shop. Meanwhile, the purpose of said meeting was essentially declaring that Trump did not accept the results of a democratic election.
Though released just prior to the election, Borat 2 is still making comedy waves online; stemming predominantly from a well-edited clip of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, seemingly soliciting sex from an interviewer, before Sacha Baron Cohen storms in. What’s attracted far less attention and memes, however, is a scene from earlier in that same movie, in which Cohen’s Borat requests that a seemingly sweet baker ices a well-known anti-Semitic phrase onto a cake – which she does without hesitation, and with a smile. This is very much indicative of deep-rooted problems, and yet because it’s not really funny, it gets little discussion.
Perhaps it is only my filter bubble, but seeing celebrities and popular artists on Twitter, Instagram, or listening to music, watching films – consuming any kind of cultural content at all – you’d be pushed to question, does anyone even support Trump? The electoral run-up seemed swarmed with personalities telling Americans to go out and vote – and it was clear who they meant to vote for. Was Trump ever popular?
And yet, whilst some news sources have been keen to broadcast that Biden is the most voted for president-elect ever – at around 77,000,000 votes – they are similarly neglecting to point out that Trump is the second most voted for candidate ever; his current count sitting at approximately 72,000,000, ten million more than he received in 2016. There is clearly a dramatic gulf between how mainstream media portrays attitudes to Trump and how his devoted supporters see him.
It is funny, and almost relieving, to play off the actions of Trump as silly and hilariously incompetent, but the risk being faced by America, Britain, and the wider cultural sphere, is the way he will be remembered. If we keep continuing to pretend he is only a subject of comedy, how will his legacy look in twenty years? Fifty? Going this way, the inflammatory agent of a dark four years will end up only a mildly humorous factoid on an edition of Trivial Pursuit. “Which US President once tweeted ‘Covfefe’?”
Image Credit: CNN