Arts & Culture / Dispatches / Politics / The Reading Room / Vol 3. No. 1

Donald Trump is Still a Threat to Our Democracy, and Artists Should Not Back Down

Tootsie Warhol campaigning in New York City in May 2020

Image Credit: Tootsie Warhol campaigning in New York City in May 2020/em>, Courtesy of the artist.

We all need a break. Despite the fact that the murder of George Floyd, among too many other Black Americans, jolted an important and overdue conversation about racial inequity to the forefront; we all felt drained from a year in which we lived through a deadly pandemic and an election like no other. Just when we didn’t think anything could top 2020, we witnessed Donald Trump stir up a violent mob which stormed the U.S Capitol, leaving five people dead and hundreds injured.

I don’t blame the artist Jim Carrey, whose brilliant acting still makes me laugh every time I watch the 1994 classic The Mask, for announcing his retirement from his excellent political cartoons which laid bare a repugnant Donald Trump. He was exhausted as we all were. I don’t blame Sarah Cooper, the breakout star whose Trump impersonations on tiktok made us all laugh during a brutal year, for moving on to non-Trump comedy. 

I know from personal experience that it can be exhausting to absorb and regurgitate Donald Trump through impersonation. After all, following my 2017 meeting with Trump to discuss voter suppression (which I secretly tape recorded and leaked to the press), I have performed as a satirical version of Donald Trump for months on end in the streets of New York: in protest of the 2019 Whitney Biennial in “MAKING THE BIENNIAL GREAT AGAIN!” and in Times Square in 2020 in “TOOTSIE WARHOL FOR PRESIDENT: MAKE AMERICA SMART AGAIN!”  

My performances take inspiration from Marina Abramovic’s endurance performance, “The Artist is Present” that I observed at MoMA in 2010, and also from William Pope.L’s famous “crawl” performances as they were exhibited in a 2019 retrospective at MoMA.

But I am calling on artists to continue to use art as a medium to press back on that tyrant we all know all too well, red tie, blue suit, gold hair and all.

Despite having failed to lead the country in a competent coronavirus response which has left over 600,000 Americans dead (and many experts believe the true number of U.S. deaths to be closer to 1 million), Donald Trump beat his vote total in 2016 by over 10 million and received over 74 million votes in 2020. Studies show that, sadly, the deep divide in the country between red and blue does not seem to be receding despite a markedly improved response to the pandemic by the Biden Harris administration both in terms of public health and safety and economic aid.

Innumerable Americans still wear MAGA hats, which became a lifestyle brand more than any other piece of campaign memorabilia along with merchandise supporting QAnon and Trump 2024. Trump continues to sow doubt about the 2020 election: A recent survey from Quinnipiac University shows that two-thirds of Republicans believe that Joe Biden’s victory is not legitimate.

Trump holds the unique distinction as the only president to be impeached twice. Now banned from social media after having used it to organize a riot on the U.S. Capitol, he operates in the shadows of Mar-a-Lago rather than in the limelight but still chips away at our democracy each passing day.

The Biden-Harris administration has announced steps to combat the violent extremism which we witnessed storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as per Trump’s orders; but violent domestic extremism flourished during the Trump administration, and it cannot be quickly erased from American politics.

“It is what it is,” is what Trump said in response to a mounting pandemic death toll. He has never acknowledged that Black Lives Matter and has compared police brutality to missing a golf putt. He said, “They choke, just like in a golf tournament, they miss a 3-foot putt.”

Even though Trump spends a bit more time golfing now than he did while in office (261 rounds as President), like a Florida gator, he still lurks just beneath the surface of the swamp.

This is why I am continuing to use my art to stand up to Donald Trump against all odds, and I encourage artists to join me in fighting the good fight.

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