Following Trump’s election, we must all prepare for a different world – one that needs art more than ever
I am writing this on 13 November 2016, five days after Donald J. Trump was voted into power as the 45th President of the US. Given that such lead times are involved in producing a print magazine, what can usefully be said two months in advance of the abyssal plunge on 20 January, when he is inaugurated, other than: ‘Hold tight’?
If you’re reading this having voted for Trump – and I’ll bet there are a few of you lurking in the art world who did – then know you have helped commit an act of mental violence on millions. I hope you can sleep at night for the distress you have helped visit upon every friend, colleague or member of my community who, days after the election, has wept, shaken with anger, hidden away in depression or dread, or phoned a suicide hotline – not because they are sore losers who can’t accept an election result, but because they are female, black, brown, Muslim, queer, an immigrant or too poor to pay for medical care. Their lives are now under threat of abuse, discrimination, deteriorating health or deportation, either at the hands of policy or the mistral of aggression that is already whipping across the country. ‘We will get through this,’ are words of reassurance I’ve heard said, and even repeated myself. The truth, however, is that not all of us will get through this. And that tragedy-in-waiting, Trumpist, is your fault.
If you’re a US citizen, perhaps you voted for Hillary Clinton because you wanted a female president, or you were voting tactically against Trump, or you are lucky enough to enjoy a comfortable life under the economic status quo she stood for. Maybe you voted for a third party or didn’t vote at all, out of protest or complacency. Many of you are reading this from outside the US: from its anxious neighbours, Canada and Mexico, or from Brexit Britain – the poisoned aperitif to Trump. You may be reading this from another nation under threat from the extreme right – Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland – or from countries in the thick of authoritarianism: the Philippines, Russia.
By the time you read this, you’ll likely have heard dozens of pundits explaining exactly why Trump won, with the same certainty that they told you Hillary had it in the bag. You might have witnessed scenes such as the one I did in my local deli where, the day after the election, a Hispanic woman proudly declared: ‘Trump’s my boss now!’ You will have heard about US citizens considering migrating to Canada or New Zealand – as if Americans can simply go where they please. If you are white, you will be feeling self-conscious about your whiteness. If you are white, aged 40, male, heterosexual and raised a Christian, like I am, then, by the time you read this, you should understand just how far down the Trumpist shitlist you are compared to everyone else.
By the time you read this, you might have marched in the streets – despite thinking: ‘What’s the point?’ – encouraged by the sight of so many in their teens and early 20s out protesting. You will not have been in the mood for jokes but may have smiled when you saw a placard that read ‘Orange is Not the New Black’ and heard ‘New York Hates You!’ chanted by thousands outside Trump Tower. You will have lost count of the number of people lamenting their tardy realization that they live in a bubble. You’ll know that, no matter who loses the demographic blame-game, people can be assholes whether they’re rich, poor or members of the middle class that also came out for Trump. You’ll have wondered how Trump’s gas of lies suffocated Clinton’s appeal to the facts, despite knowing how deeply misogyny stains the psyche.
By the time you read this, you should be fighting the urge to normalize this situation, because it is not going to be normal. You should know you’re in for the long haul and that you’re going to feel tired. By the time you read this, you’ll have noticed the term ‘post-truth’ used daily and will have been scolded by someone oozing seen-it-all-before wisdom that we should give Trump a chance. You’ll have asked yourself: ‘What chance?’, given that Vice President Mike Pence is an advocate of gay conversion therapy, Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is executive chairman of the far-right news website Breitbart.com and the Republican victory was celebrated on the homepage of the KKK.
By the time you read this, you might have remembered what writer Colin Dickey tweeted about the election campaign back in May 2016: ‘If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in 1930s Germany, well then, my friend, here is your fucking chance to find out.’ You will have regretted the occasions you romanticized life in politically turbulent times that you never lived through. You will be wishing for a time when all you had to complain about was zombie formalist painting. You might think that you’re overreacting, then recall that a female friend was punched in the face in a Brooklyn restaurant by a male Trump supporter the weekend after the election.
By the time you read this, you might be wondering why you’re reading an art magazine and experiencing pangs of anxiety that making or looking at art seems irrelevant right now. But you should know that it’s crucial to keep making art and to keep talking about culture and politics. Use your skills and resources, support activists and agit-proppers, but also keep close to the weird, the marginal, the non-conformist, the irreverent, the lonely, the delicate, the ambiguous, the perverse, the angry, the fundamentally not-you, because the existence of all of this stops culture from being erased and replaced by other ideologies. By the time you read this, Trump may have pivoted into an agenda of love and peace, making me out as a paranoid idiot. But the signs on 13 November tell me you should be ready for action.
Main image: Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to come to the National Mall to witness Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Lionel Hahn/AbacaUsa.com
First published in Issue 184