The Trump presidency is unique to American history. His campaign unfolded like a reality TV show, propelling the topic of politics into our bars and living rooms. Now he’s come to sit around our dinner tables like the racist uncle you only have to see at Christmas, except he’s staying for four years, and somehow running the show. A blatant disregard for actual facts defined his march to the White House. Granted, presidential campaigns are often motivated by voter emotion, particularly fear, but Trump’s was unique in its especial pandering to what had been a silent well of American frustration and anger. His campaign relied on rallies and social media instead of traditional means of garnering support, and his incorrigible desire to appear on stage as a caricature of himself meant the campaign came to resemble an extended performance piece. Trump’s unfortunate encounter with a bald eagle during a TIME photo shoot, for instance, is positively comic. The eagle musses Trump’s comb-over, and tries to bite his hand. Trump ducks. It was precisely these ostensibly laughable moments which guaranteed Trump free air-time on a variety of news-outlets, augmenting his appeal to his devotees and their exposure to him. Post-, as pre-election, Trump’s Twitter functions as a channel for his inflammatory, and personally motivated, remarks – Meryl Streep is “overrated”; John Lewis “WRONG!”; polls are “rigged”. Trump’s campaign and his impending presidency mark the conflation of realms previously considered distinct: the personal and the political. So, what are the implications for Art, a realm of expression which has, until now, existed outside of objectivity?
As the language of politics – once distinct from ordinary conversation – assimilates into everyday life, we can hope that Art will come to play a refreshingly central role, too. However divergent their practices, perhaps all artists are necessarily unified now in the imperative to engage with the political turmoil of the present. Certainly, artists experience a lateral pressure to entertain political and social issues in their work. Just as in past times of crisis, we can expect that varying approaches to artistic experience and production will come together in unexpected ways. When Abstract Expressionism emerged from the trauma of World War II, it offered a view of the universe defined by feeling, gesture, and the rejection of tradition. Movements like this have historically been effective because they throw the subjectivity of the establishment, which likes to think of itself as objective, into light. Under Trump, the equation is inverted: it is Art which must try and imbue a new kind of subjective politics with some objectivity. If Art is to survive, it will require a radical rethinking of creativity. Wherever you personally stand on Art’s duty to engage with or diverge from the zeitgeist, the earthquake of Trump cannot be overstated. The very nature of the ‘political statement’ is in flux, just like the definitions of satire and even the figurative are thrown to the wind by the threat of a world order where Truth is far from top of any agenda. The wall to kick against has turned to liquid. As the zone of the political creeps into that of the ordinary, and conjecture begins to wear the mask of fact, the rules of the game have changed.