he Trump presidency has been notable for many things and — unlikely as it sounds — one of them is the huge proliferation of arts and culture that has surrounded it. For good or ill, here’s the best and worst of the art that it has inspired.
Sarah Cooper, comedian
Unlike the rest of us, Sarah Cooper’s 2020 has been pretty good. The comedian and author started off as a relative unknown, and ended up the proud owner of her very own Netflix special. How? By posting a string of hilarious lip-syncs on TikTok, with Trump and his less than cogent ramblings as her target, she went viral in lockdown. Her videos cast the President’s words in a surreal light, exposing the mad comedy of what he was saying. The resulting show, Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine, featured plenty of lip-syncing, but proved Cooper was a multi-talented performer and writer, much more than just a mime artist.
Don’t Lie to Me by Barbra Streisand
Streisand herself directed the video to this rather overwrought ballad, which weirdly appears at one point to draw on Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, while the visuals, mostly still photographs and graphics in black, white and red, seem to draw on the work of artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, possibly as put together by an earnest sixth-former. Still, it gets the Hillary-supporting Streisand’s point across, which is that Trump’s pants are well and truly on fire and Babs literally has no idea how he and his ilk sleep at night. Which is sort of fair enough.
The Comey Rule by Billy Ray
Landing slap bang in the middle of election season (on Sky in the UK), The Comey Rule had the dubious honour of featuring the first ever dramatic depiction of Trump. Based on former FBI boss James Comey’s 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, it starred a tangerine-stained, bewigged Brendan Gleeson, unrecognisable in heavy prosthetics, as the Donald. The two-part special didn’t quite give Trump the skewering we’d hoped for, though — Gleeson’s much-hyped role felt more like an extended cameo. Perhaps the most damning verdict was the deafening social media silence from Trump, a man famously obsessed with his own image, watching television, and tweeting about both of those things.
America by Maurizio Cattelan
Cattelan’s work of “satirical participatory art”, made in the year of Trump’s election, is a fully-functioning toilet made of solid 18-carat gold valued at £4.8m. It’s not hard to imagine it in the guest loo of a Trump Tower penthouse apartment. Technically it’s part of the Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collection, but slightly embarrassingly it was stolen from Blenheim Palace, where it was on loan for an exhibition, in 2019. So it’s probably long-since been melted down (a process which presumably would have the necessary disinfecting effect). Blenheim were mostly annoyed about the interior damage to the building, caused when the thieves ripped the plumbed in loo off the wall.
Time magazine cover, July 2, 2018
It’s well-known that Trump is inordinately proud of having appeared repeatedly on the cover of Time magazine, to the extent that he has them framed and displayed at his golf courses (though in 2017 the publication had to ask him to remove several fakes, which says a lot) but even he would probably prefer the 2 July, 2018 cover quietly hung in the broom cupboard. Created at the height of the controversy over the removal of migrant children from their families at the US/Mexico border, it shows him looking down on a sobbing two-year-old Honduran girl, photographed there by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore. It was reported last month that the parents of 545 of those children are still yet to be located.
FDT (F*** Donald Trump) by YG feat. Nipsey Hussle
So much of the anti-Trump music that has sprung up in the last few years is dominated by sprawling lyrical takedowns, shoved full of lofty metaphors. There’s certainly a place for that kind of thing — there’s no shortage of ways to describe his reign in the White House — but sometimes you just need to get straight down to the nitty gritty. Repeating the words “F*** Donald Trump!” in the chorus of your song is one way of doing that. FDT was released by LA rapper YG in the run-up to the 2016 election, but has stayed depressingly relevant for many. “I like white folks, but I don’t like you,” he raps, later adding: “He got me appreciating Obama way more”. It helps that the song itself is an absolute banger — even the MAGA crowd couldn’t deny it’s got an insanely catchy hook.
People dressing up as Trump on Saturday Night Live is nothing new — the US sketch show has had comedians don the toupee since the late Eighties. And though each of them had a good crack at it, none have nailed it like Alec Baldwin. When he first appeared in October 2016, tango-faced and draped in an ill-fitting suit, it seemed like the role had been made for the actor — his voice was a dead ringer, and he mastered Trump’s idiosyncrasies, from those yo-yoing hand movements to the (admittedly overstated) pouting lips. It was an instant hit, and it earned Baldwin a Primetime Emmy in 2017. The President was less impressed. “Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks,” he tweeted after the first performance. Since then, Trump has often taken to social media to decry Baldwin’s impersonation, apparently unable to stop himself from watching.
The Pussy Hat by Krista Suh
Sure it looks a bit like cat ears, but it’s not, is it? Knitted in their thousands to patterns put online by one of the organisers Krista Suh for the Women’s March in 2017, the Pussy Hat isn’t exactly the height of fashion, but it did reclaim the word after the leaking of Trump’s remarks about grabbing women... well, you remember. Let’s not speak of it. It’s not the only beau chapeau he’s inspired — there are the red MAGA caps (ghoulishly fun to spot on a tourist) and their opposite number, which look very much the same until you peer closer and see “Made You Look Black Lives Matter”.
2100 by Run the Jewels
It was an unlikely and perhaps unwelcome way to rise to fame — the rapper Killer Mike, of the duo Run the Jewels, went viral earlier this year with his impassioned speech following the death of George Floyd. But the pair have always been highly political and immediately after Trump was elected they released 2100 to sum up how they were feeling. The opening lines — “How long before the hate that we hold /leads us to another Holocaust?” — rather set the tone, though Mike had a more uplifting message later in the track: “Make love, smoke kush, try to laugh hard, and live long /that’s the antidote /You defeat the devil when you hold on to hope.” Too right.
Julius Caesar directed by Oskar Eustis
Not since the Hamilton cast gave Mike Pence a talking to has The Donald caused so much drama in a theatre. In 2017, the Public Theater in New York staged a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with Trump depicted as the eponymous character. And, yes — spoiler alert — he still gets assassinated at the end. Controversy and outrage abounded, with sponsors pulling out and performances interrupted by hecklers. Fox News was upset. Donald Trump Jr was upset. In an interview, its director, Oskar Eustis, noted the irony that a 2012 production with Obama as Caesar had passed without comment.
BET Hip Hop Awards 2017 freestyle by Eminem
This excoriating freestyle was a reminder of how acute Eminem’s aim can be. Taking in everything from Trump’s incendiary rhetoric on immigrants to his apparent support for white supremacists, and analysing how the president diverts attention from important issues such as gun reform or the plight of hurricane-devasted Puerto Rico by whining on Twitter about NFL players taking the knee, it was probably preaching to the converted but it’s none the worse for that. And just in case, he made his position clear: “any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his, I’m drawing a line in the sand, you’re either for or against, and if you can’t decide who you like more, or you’re split, or who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this: F*** you!”
Make America Great Again by Illma Gore
Proof that art doesn’t need to be beautiful, this nude of the president by then 25-year-old artist Illma Gore was made early on in the Trump presidency and quickly went viral. In a turn of events that is now depressingly predictable, Gore was threatened with a lawsuit should she try to sell it (she was inundated with offers), and received death threats from outraged Trump fans (it showed their hero with a tiny penis). Gore insisted that it was not intended as ridicule, noting that genitalia size does not define status. There’s only one thing that (as far as we’re aware) she definitely got wrong — his hands are too big.
That’s What Makes Us Great by Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky
The Boss has made no secret of his contempt for the president, telling Rolling Stone as early as 2016 that “the republic is under siege by a moron”, and this song, a collaboration between Springsteen and Houserockers frontman Grushecky, picks up on the Trump administration’s mistreatment of migrants. “Some wanna slam the door /Instead of opening the gate /Aw, let’s turn this thing around /Before it gets too late” it goes, alongside the repeated refrain “Love can conquer hate /I know this to be true /That’s what makes us great”.
Shipwreck by Anne Washburn
American playwright Anne Washburn said the outrage around the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar production partly inspired her to write her mammoth three-hour take on the Trump administration. Staged at the Almeida in 2019, it saw a group of middle class, liberal Americans trying to understand how Trump had got elected. It was met with acclaim, but some found it exhausting — which is probably a natural reaction to listening to three hours of people talking about Trump.