One of the great pieces of art that’s come out of this presidential campaign is a nude depiction of Donald Trump by artist Illma Gore. In the painting, Trump is cast as unflatteringly as possible. All he’s wearing is a gold bracelet while his fat gut sags almost low enough to cover a button-sized micropenis. Apparently Trump’s supporters are as thin-skinned as the man himself, because on April 29 a group of them assaulted Gore over her art.
According to Gore – who has been getting recognized on the street since the painting went viral in February – a carful of men drove alongside her while she walked, taunting her and yelling, “Trump 2016.” They stopped up the road and as she got closer, someone stepped out of the passenger side door, punched her in the face hard enough to leave a huge black eye, and she fell to the ground. Trump’s brave supporters then drove away, laughing.
So far, the perpetrators have not been caught and Trump has not officially responded to the incident. But it’s not hard to imagine, based on prior incidents of his supporters committing violent crimes, what his response might be: “People who are following me are very passionate.” He might also add that Gore’s painting was “Very nasty,” and “Not a nice painting.”
He would be right. But what Trump fails to realize is that not a single human being on this planet is under any obligation to treat him with respect. Despite his rank vulgarity, his petulance, and his apocalyptic policies, he has been cultivating an image of himself for supporters as magnanimous and beyond criticism. He demands that others treat him reverently and isn’t afraid of setting violent supporters on those who don’t.
Trump has studied fascist strongmen – he reportedly kept a book of Hitler speeches on his nightstand – and he is using their tactics. On a recent CNN appearance Trump admonished Chris Cuomo for not paying proper respects, saying, “First of all, you should congratulate me for having won the race.” He talks about the need to “open up our libel laws” so he can sue the press – and presumably artists like Gore – for creating “negative and horrible” content about him.
The scariest part is that Trump is getting his way. Gore’s painting has allegedly been banned from Facebook and its sale was blocked on eBay. Prior to the physical assault, Gore received thousands of death threats. For evidence that Trump is leading a dangerous cult of personality, look no further than this instance – proof positive that his most rabid supporters treat him like Mohammed and will go jihad on anyone who depicts him negatively.
Gore’s painting is actually the perfect treatment for the mockery of a man that is Trump. Against him ridicule may be the only effective weapon. Conventional political attacks don’t work because he has no concrete positions to begin with and his supporters don’t care about policy anyway. But attack the size of his penis and he becomes apoplectic. It shatters the illusion he’s created in the eyes of his supporters as someone who’s immense and powerful.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is currently engaged in a Twitter feud with Trump. She has gotten a couple good shots in. Her best tweet read, “Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless. Your record is embarrassing. And your free ride is over.” Hillary Clinton released two attack ads targeting Trump, one which featured prominent Republican politicians condemning him and another that used his own words to paint him as a xenophobic, sexist, flip-flopping maniac.
Neither of these offensives have had any apparent effect on his support level. Warren’s fans liked and retweeted her tweets; Trump’s fans did the same for him. Clinton’s ads featured establishment politicians that the GOP base already rejected, so there’s no way they could be persuasive. And Trump’s racist, fascistic declarations are precisely what have made him popular, so an ad composed entirely of them might as well be released by his own campaign.
For it to elicit the kinds of reactions it has there must be greater power in Gore’s painting. It perfectly undercuts Trump’s self-image. A nude painting of Bernie Sanders likely wouldn’t cause as much fuss. Perhaps this is because Sanders supporters are better-humored, but more likely it’s because Sanders hasn’t portrayed himself in the egomaniacal fashion Trump has. Similarly, the planned porno featuring a Ted Cruz lookalike is brilliant. With a fascist theocrat like Cruz, having a lookalike get penetrated on camera becomes an act of rebellion.
It’s more important now than ever that art like Gore’s is created, distributed and displayed. Social media makes this easy. With Trump expressing a desire to outlaw or suppress such material, and with many Americans eager to form goon squads and enforce that will, what happened to Gore is a harrowing glimpse of what may well become a legalized norm if Trump actually wins the presidency. Freedom-loving people around the world should stand in solidarity with artists like Gore.