6 Works of Art to Understand the 2016 US Election


Credit to DonkeyHotey under Creative Commons license.
This year I’ve been slightly obsessed with the US election. This is because they have such a close resemblance to the rise of right wing nationalism and anti-immigration rethoric I am observing in Europe and also because they are too far away from me to have too much of an impact on me. The terror I feel when I hear nationalists from Europe speak is replaced with a mixture of amusement and outrage when I listen to Donald Trump. Waking up this morning however felt equally disturbing and disorienting as the Brexit vote earlier this year. While there have been many brilliant thinkpieces on Trumps rise and success I find the greatest resonance within art. Here are my six favourite pieces to make sense of what the fuck is going on at the moment.

Technically this podcast is a work of journalism, but in my mind transcends the genre like no other. It is easy to denounce Trump voters and nationalists and racists but this podcast does not go down that road. Instead Kai Wright and his team try to understand the underlying roots and causes of the rise of Trump and does what many of us don’t do these days: leave our filterbubble and engage with the humans we all are. What he finds is a much more nuanced picture than a pack of deplorables and offers a fascinating look into the soul of a deeply divided country.  
All of Trumps favourite movies
            In 2012 Trump revealed his top 5 movies for Movieline: Citizen Kane (1941), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Gone with the Wind (1939), GoodFellas (1990) and The Godfather (1972). To understand his social Darwinist mindset his favourite movies are a good starting point. They all share a traditionally masculine protagonist that has his potency threatened but persists to whatever opposition he faces. The world for Trump is a merciless jungle where only the tough and ruthless finds success. But is it just me who finds it irritating that he finds business inspiration in Mafia movies?

Calvin and Hobbes
Bill Watterson did not only create a comic strip that turned me and thousands of other kids in cynical existentialists but the political science grad also had some interesting bits on politics that still ring true today, from Trumps strategy to the medias involvement in this mess.
Credit to Bill Waterson
Credit to Bill Waterson

The Simpsons
There is no political issue that couldn’t be explained with an episode of the Simpsons. I’m not going with the obvious “Simpsons predict Trump” episode here but rather “Much Apu about Nothing” (23rd episode of the 7th season). Brilliantly satirical it unmantles the fear mongering anti-immigration rethoric that has been at the heart of this election. Even 20 years after it first aired it lost nothing of its punch and wit.   

Sarah Palmer's Photography
Credit to Sarah Palmer
Sarah Palmer manages to capture the feeling I have about the American election better than anyone else. She visited Trump rallyies and created in camera multiple exposures on film. I admire her commitment to the old school methods and medium, and providing a great antidote to the instantaneous political photography I am used to. She creates nightmarish dreamscapes that add to the feeling that this is a confusing dream we’re all just trying to make sense of.

Thomas Tranströmer’s Poetry
As Teju Cole said, we can turn to Tranströmer when we wish to come as close as possible to what cannot be said. That being said I leave you with his short poem national insecurity:

The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X

and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.

As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground

so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.

A helmet worn by no one has taken power.

The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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