How Trump Won: Heroes, Villains and Surviving the Apocalypse

I argue that to understand the appeal of President Trump one has to appreciate the political world he has forged with his supporters – which is a combination of cultural imagery, narrative and metaphorical world-building.

In short, the cultural ‘furniture’ that the Trump frame/world rests on can be found in aspects of fantasy and science fiction art which is now dominant in Western culture. More specifically, the Trump political narrative (and world) is built on cultural framing related to conflict and it includes a complex cast of heroes and villains, which is heavily dependent on a long-established tropes in comic books, graphic novels, movies and video games.

In the following analysis, I am attempting to make two arguments:

  1. President Trump evokes a ‘conflict/survivalists’ frame to attract and retain supporters.
  2. Art, through culture (in this case, geek/nerd culture), creates political worlds and heavily influences real-world political action.

To support these arguments, I will describe how conflict is framed and then animate this general discussion with specific examples, such as Frank Miller’s 300 and Arthurian legend related to President John F. Kennedy. Finally, I will attempt to cast the Trump survivalists frame in the context of fantasy/sci fi tropes.

Political Conflict and Cultural Framing

Cover artist: Edel Rodriguez TIME, Jan. 2018.

Conflict relies on cultural imagery to cast heroes and villains. To make war (the most extreme form of conflict), like any dark tale, requires the artful presentation of the saviour and the oppressed, or the trope of protection from a looming evil. Von Clausewitz (2006) famously quipped, “War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means” (p. 252). I would add that war is an aspect (or outcome) of charged imagery. States go to war not based on rational decision-making models, it is the irrational (therefore human) response to one’s own imagery as the hero and the acceptance of the casting of the other as the enemy. The claim a political leader can make the decision to send their country to war outside of a cultural frame or imagery is false.

The imagery of conflict looks surprisingly similar whether it is interpersonal, in a community, or at the national or international level. In all cases, someone is trying to frame the other as the threat and themselves (or an ally) as the hero/remedy. The framing in this case, like all framing, attaches to pre-existing narratives. What we intimately know as good and bad/ evil and just must be activated in order for the framing of the other and the self to take hold. This is not a one-way process, a collectivity may reject the whole or part of the conflict-related imagery, indeed, this is often the case.

The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the framing depends on the craft, design and insight of the framing invoked. Attempts to frame another as a threat may be rejected if it just doesn’t “feel” right. This is true in fiction and primary world social relations as both operate from the same artistic premise. A feeling we have toward an estranged uncle may present itself in the doubt we have toward a national political leader or even toward an entire collectively. A skilled politician will attempt to cast a political opponent in the context of framing we already know. The hope here is to draw a connection, possibly false but no less effective as an image, between two seemingly unrelated figures. For example, Hillary Clinton, in the early 2000s, would refer to her Republican rival Vice-President Dick Cheney as Darth Vader.

In a conflict scenario, those involved are always battling framing being launched in their direction, whether they acknowledge this or not is irrelevant. Indeed, allowing an opponent free reign to build metaphorical frames as they see fit usually results in their triumph. In formal debating, this is allowing your opponent to define the terms of the debate, but imagery is more than a mere turn of phrase in a dictionary, powerfully controlling the term of reference in a debate is to evoke an artistic uptake of the term – we know it, ‘cause we feel it. As Lakoff (2011) famously noted, “metaphors can kill” (p. 1).

Miller’s 300

Miller, F., & Varley, L. (2006). 300. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books. (Original work published 1998)

Let’s linger on a specific example from a contemporary graphic novel as a narrative which relies on political conflict to energize its frame. An interesting example of the power of visual imagery appears in the work of eminent graphic novelist Frank Miller’s 300, originally published in 1998 (Miller & Varley, 1998/2006). At some level this artwork relates to the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) which occurred during the second Persian invasion of Greece. At this battle, a superior force of Persians was met by various Greek military units featuring Spartans, Thespians and Thebans. The battle lasted a few days and eventually the Greeks were overrun and slaughtered almost to a person.

However, Miller’s graphic novel follows more closely the trope in the 1962 20th Century Fox film The 300 Spartans, which casts this tale as a small group of Spartan soldiers (300) attempting to defend their freedom against an indomitable empire employing slave-soldiers. To tell his tale, Miller does not give us a literal history lesson of the Battle of Thermopylae, but he employs a harsh palette of black and grey drawings accented with hues of blood-red, earthy brown and bronze yellow. His drawing is stark as his figures are rendered almost entirely in shadow, with fierce features cut through with jagged spear and sword edges. The Greek landscape he depicts is far removed from one you would find in a tourism brochure; Miller’s Greece is almost entirely barren of vegetation with mountains and plains rendered in moody darks more reminiscent of a moonscape than a Mediterranean paradise.

Miller’s writing is less inspiring than his visuals, his characters speak in unencumbered prose, mostly shouting slogans about glory in battle. The 2007 Zack Snyder film, 300, which the graphic novel inspired (Frank Miller was the executive producer) follows Miller’s visual style closely, giving the film almost a graphic-novel-on-screen feel (Nunnari, Canton, Goldmann, Silver & Snyder, 2007). To a person, the Spartans are depicted with idealized male muscle structure (everyone has six-pack abs), men enter battle in loin cloths, a spear, shield and helmet and little else. Meanwhile, the Persians wear a variety of costumes into battle and were often wearing make-up and long, flowing dark robes. The King of the Persians, Xerxes,is portrayed as an effeminate god-man, appearing almost naked with a variety of body piercings and tattoos. The Spartan King, Leonidas, derides the Persian soldiers as “boy-lovers” and clearly shows contempt for the aesthetic appearance of Xerxes. This is ironic because many historians agree that ancient Sparta had institutionalized homosexual relationships into the Spartan military, it is almost certain that an actual Leonidas would have had many “boy-lovers” in his lifetime. In contemporary society having boy-lovers is appropriately a serious crime, but in historical context a Spartan king would not likely have criticized such behaviour.

Xeres, 300 (2007), Jack Synder (Dir.) Warner Bros. Pictures.

The overriding theme in both the book and film is acute, visceral violence – scores of soldiers on both sides are shown being hacked limb from limb with showers of blood racing across the screen almost continually from the point the battle is joined. Also, Miller moves closer to a fairy-story frame, the enemies the Spartans face are not just human, for example, the Persian King is a form of wizard who is able to summon a host of other worldly beasts to serve in his military. His army is populated with wraith-like warriors, ogres and some form of sirens, with a variety of other fantastical creatures. Employing these types of magical characters combined with his unique drawings certainly evokes a faerie realm of its own. Indeed, Miller is not concerned with historical accuracy and it seems clear that he is telling a story designed to activate a specific set of values, and, I imagine, he wants to entertain his audience.

The 300 film and book have been both praised and criticized for being a conservative (ideologically) film. Miller’s story glorifies male military prowess, and showcases military discipline, loyalty and skill. Although the Spartans are supposedly fighting to preserve their democratic freedom, the military command structure is rigidly hierarchical – ending with King Leonidas whose soldiers are sworn to follow his every command. The right-wing magazine, National Review, praised this film as one of the best conservative films of the last twenty-five years (NR Symposium, 2009). The graphic novel also won three Eisner awards.

As I noted earlier, this work has been criticized for its historical inaccuracy and for its support of conservative and pro-military values. However, one critic makes a point well worth exploring in the context of cultural imagery: in response to the claim that 300 would create a wider following for conservative causes Newsday critic Gene Seymour (2007) observed that “the movie’s just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing” (para. 3). Yet, Seymour’s critique of visual art as narrative risks missing the point, 300’s power comes from its visual language and the very thing Seymour may find silly is what helps many others form a mental picture of what it is to be male, a leader and a soldier.

This is a tale about loyalty, leadership and discipline in the face of certain defeat and it is told largely through arresting drawing and painting. There is a common bias in the academy and journalism favouring word over picture: the belief seems to be that weak prose trumps (forgive me) strong visuals – I contend it is not that simple; to fail to grasp the power of a picture in film and books is to fail to grasp the influence of movies like Star Wars (which is never to compete with Shakespeare for dramatic prose but surpasses many other films for its visual sophistication).

300 is in the company of excellent graphic novels and films for its strong visual production, the imagery lingers in the mind’s eye and can embed itself into the cultural framework in a way that overcomes the weakness of the prose. In fact, it is helpful in some cases not to have too many words competing with the visuals when creating a powerful narrative and world-building.

I contend that the Trump administration’s imagery relies on the narratives which evoke the politics of conflict, expressed in artworks like 300. The following section on Kennedy and Arthurian legend builds my analysis by adding another example of how a real-world politician is linked to a narrative in the fictive realm; and the section on “Trump’s Frame” will further link Trump’s image/ world with conflict-narratives apparent in contemporary fantasy and sci-fi art.

Kennedy and Camelot

The Last Sleep of Arthur, Edward Burne-Jones, circa 1881. 279 cm × 650 cm

The ability of a president to cast themselves (with help from others) in a narrative as a hero did not start with Donald Trump. For example, President John F. Kennedy is interesting in that he is one of the more powerful examples of how a real-world politician became reimaged through a fairy-tale fiction. On Dec. 6, 1963, one week following his Dallas assassination by a sniper in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy arranged an interview with Life magazine writer, Theodore H. White. The article is a graphic account of the last moments of the President’s life but the First Lady insisted on including references to the mythical realm of Camelot and her now famous quotation: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot…there’ll be great presidents again … but there will never be another Camelot” (White, 1963, para. 13-14).

With the assassination fresh in the public’s mind, the Camelot references stuck. The image of Camelot, and all the enchantment it entailed became embedded in the lore of the Kennedy administration. This seems to have been Mrs. Kennedy’s intent. As noted in White’s memoir, In Search of History: A Personal Adventure (1978), she did not want “…Jack left to the historians” (p. 520).

It is difficult to find an interpretation of the Kennedy presidency following his death which does not make some reference to Camelot. Indeed, the image she evoked in this article is still with us. For example, Stratford (2013) explains that “It’s almost embarrassingly easy for a modern historian to record facts, but mythology is still in there, mucking up the works. People latch onto Camelot, much more than either Kennedy the man, or the politician” (para. 4). Stratford (2013) seems to lament this linkage observing “Camelot keeps us from the whole story. He, and we, deserve better” (para. 10). But the image of Camelot does not obscure the Kennedy presidency – it offers a powerful frame within which to experience his presidential legacy, and shows the insight of Mrs. Kennedy that her husband’s legacy needed protection from the historians, political scientists and journalists. The Arthurian shield-wall was up to the task.

The Arthurian legend is not to be equated with a single narrative stream; over the centuries, this fiction has been re-framed many times. It seems to have begun in 1138 with Geoffrey of Monmith’s Historia Requm Britanniae, and has been retold in the poetry of Chrétiens de Tryes, Marie de France, Thomas Malory, Alfred Lord Tennyson and others.

In addition, the Arthurian legends are supported by powerful visual imagery. For example, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King was published in the 19th century with the masterful etchings of Gustave Dore, which often overshadow the text evoking an emotional connection with the viewer. In addition, art history is replete with artists who reference the legend, including the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmund Blair Leighton, William Morris,Edward Burne-Jones and the later British Romantic, J.W. Waterhouse.

In the 1960s, the Arthurian myth was experiencing a revival in American culture with such works as T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, Disney’s animation The Sword in the Stone, and the 1960 Lerner and Lowewe Broadway musical Camelot. Indeed, Mrs. Kennedy’s “one brief shining moment” reference comes directly from the musical – a show she tells us was one that President Kennedy loved. The comparison was direct, believable and perfectly timed. It is important to note that the comparison is not literal. For the image to take hold, it has to evoke similar feelings, but not the exact details of the story. Jack and Jackie Kennedy entered The White House in the 1960s as a handsome and youthful couple full of optimism and ended in tragedy, not unlike the meta theme of King Arthur which evokes the courage of brave characters dying for causes. The Camelot musical featured an impressive cast starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowall – movie and stage stars of their time known for their skill, beauty and elegance as performers.

Little imagination is needed to see that both John and Jaqueline Kennedy could have themselves been cast in this musical if appearance and style were the primary criteria. Both the world of journalism and academia deal primarily with text, which may often be blind to the power of visual imagery. Jackie Kennedy as a one-time photo journalist herself clearly had an understanding of the power of imagery to frame a narrative. She must have understood that President Kennedy and she looked the part, which gave physical substance to the Camelot comparison. This point was made artfully in the movie Jackie, when the main character, Mrs. Kennedy (Natalie Portman) observed in one scene, “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us” (Larraín, Aronofsky, Liddell, Franklin, & Larraín, 2016, 1:29:44).

White House portrait of President Kennedy, Artist:
Aaron Abraham Shikler (March 18, 1922 – November 12, 2015)

Finally, Manchester (1983), a member of the Kennedy entourage, makes my point well in his published reflections on President Kennedy and Camelot:

Actually, of course, there never was a Camelot. It exists only in legend. But that does not discredit it. Legends cannot be measured by dialectic…If you dismiss them as lies, however, you would not only offend those who cherish them; you would also be wrong. (p. 273)

President Kennedy has become a legend through the wisdom of his widow who was able to frame his legacy through Arthurian myth. I posit that President Trump is now imaged through a similar process, but he is being linked to a different myth: what I term the populist, survivalist frame.

Trump’s Frame

“Forget policies and plans, just enrapture them in a tale. One that starts in hatred and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.”

– Andres Miguel Rondón, How to let a populist beat you, over and over again, 2017

Donald Trump offers an opinion on artistic imagery in the “Introduction” of his 2004 book, Trump: Think like a Billionaire: Everything You Need to Know About Success, Real Estate and Life that merits analysis in relation to imagery. Trump writes:

We are all drawn to beauty, whether it’s the allure of a person or the elegance of a home. Whenever I’m making a creative choice, I try to step back and remember my first shallow reaction. The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience. (Trump & McIver, 2004, xxii)

This may suggest that Trump has a simplified, if not vacuous, approach to creative projects. Certainly, in the 2016 presidential election, his opponents made much of his tendency to over-simplify complex issues. However, Trump may have discovered an important ingredient of imagery. If you remove the word ‘shallow’ and replace it with immediate for example, then knowing takes second place to feeling. Political pundits have framed visceral, felt responses as irrational and unsophisticated; but for political imagery to be effective it has to be felt and work instantly, and it appears that Trump may understand this fundamental premise of the power of imagery.

What should be recalled is that cultural imagery may serve any ideological or political agenda.

As one of my students remarked during a seminar on the appeal of the first Obama presidential campaign, his campaign goal, in her words, was to make us “fall in love” with him. Indeed, the process one experiences during a first date may be more apt a description than any rational measure of a political campaign. As the public policy professor, David Gergen (2016) states in attempting to understand the Trump campaign’s success “…in politics, emotions count as much as math” (para. 13).

What President Trump was able to partially build, with the help of his audience, is a world where they have political power (Trump and his supporters). He lumbered on to the stage sporting a garish red ball-cap (but an endearing symbol to the everyman), promising a new realm where he and his tribe have agency, aided through the call and response of: ‘lock her up’, ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘make America great again’ – all necessary for this frame to be activated for this world.

The image was technically built through a camera lens and social media (Twitter) but its primary forge was a culture prepared to accept a revolutionary message. No imagery can flourish without some fertile cultural/artistic soil, and an energized group (aggregate of interests) ready to receive and shape it. Trump recognized this frame and was able to exploit it.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010) Ben Ketai (Dir.) Sony Pictures.

In popular culture, the United States is brimming with narratives which cast the marginalized as heroes and state actors and institutions as corrupt and incompetent. It is based in anger and fear, but does offer a route to empowerment for a significant group who feel marginalized. I term it the survivalist narrative, at its core it offers a hero who knows the ‘truth’, he (usually a ‘he’ but not always) sees the weakness in society and its inability to see the coming apocalypse. In this narrative, the hero endures the destruction of society and then emerges as one with the skills and the mind-set to survive. Dominant films and graphic novels help build and sustain this narrative through exemplary artistic skill: MAD MAX: Fury Road, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones all contribute to sustaining this frame, as they all produce protagonists who struggle against world-changing political violence and overcome it with a survivalist response: cope with the environment, and respond with deadly violence fuelled by vengeance.

Even popular culture superheroes have moved from supporters of the government (i.e. the rule of law) to the survivalist narrative. One potent example is Frank Miller’s Batman, through this retelling of the Batman trope the dark knight becomes a brutal vigilante who openly challenges state authority, exposes corruption in public officials and offers frequent examples of victor’s justice through maiming and even murdering opponents he defeats.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynne Varley
DC Comics, 1986

There are also some examples where women take the role of vigilante-n-chief in a post-apocalyptic world (or one which is looming) including: Stella Oleson (Kiele Sanchez) in 30 Days of Night: Dark Days and Alice (Milla Jovovich) in the Resident Evil series.

This narrative/world is also expressed in numerous video games titles, such as the Fallout, Gears of War and the DayZ franchises (just to name a few).

The survivalist narrative is robust but vague, government is the enemy but it is cast in shadowy conspiracies with some kind of elusive evil working behind the scenes – e.g. the smoking man in The X-Files, and The Darkness in Supernatural. The narrative even extends to religious texts, for example The Book of Revelation in The Holy Bible forecasts a coming apocalypse triggered by an ancient evil who exploits corrupt political institutions.

In the context of this frame a survivalist is armed with ready answers supplied by their numerous heroes in artistic media, and maybe supported by real world military training and experience with deep woods camping. The whole frame has numerous entrance portals and can support the fictive narratives of a multitude of participants – you just need to feel like an outsider who thinks their abilities and values are underappreciated, combined with a view that the political system is seemingly unresponsive, corrupt and unable to protect those it rules.

Dean (left) Sam (middle) and Bobby (right) Supernatural, Warner Bros. Television, (2005 – present).

Ultimately, this narrative is based on the value of protection: the survivalist deems the state should be a vehicle for offering protection for them and their families – if the counter -narrative is offered that the state serves others’ interests and lacks the ability to shield one from foreign powers and domestic ‘criminals’ then the soil is ripe for a fictive creation where a ‘strongman’ leader rises to take power – Trump’s strongman/outsider stance makes sense in this world, indeed it is deeply desired.

Art is Politics…

Art makes culture and culture creates politics. Geek/nerd culture presented in comic books, video games and movies is a powerful force in shaping frames, narratives and worlds. The Trump team has carved out an aspect of this world and has been able to occupy the survivalist trope so adroitly that it has led to unexpected political success for him. Not unlike how President Kennedy has been linked to Camelot, President Trump is being linked to the outsider, ‘survivalist’ narrative. Once a leader’s image has been enmeshed into a compelling narrative they are on the path to becoming a legend. And legends are insulated from a certain amount of political criticism and are afforded real power while in office.

However, it is important to make the point that if you like the artistic media I’ve mentioned above that does not necessarily mean you are a Trump supporter, there is not a direct causal relationship between one and the other. Culture is dynamic and subtle; the human imagination is complex and frames and narratives interface with each other in numerous ways which cannot easily be captured through an empirical method. However, through careful observation, patterns and themes may be gleaned and connections made between art/fiction and primary world politics. In the last analysis, the stories we make and share are important and impact all aspects of social life in ways that neither artist nor audience can fully predict or control.

Further reading

My other articles published in The Artifice also explore the relationship between political power and culture, please see Buffy’s Critical Bite and Tolkien’s Art and Politics: Is Middle-earth Real?.


  1. I thank Drs. Diane Piccitto, James Sawler and Anna Smol for their advice and editorial assistance with this manuscript.

Reference List

Clausewitz, C., Howard, Michael, Paret, Peter, & MyiLibrary. (2006). On war (Oxford world’s classics). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1832)

Edelman, Murray (1995). From Art to Politics: How Artistic Creations Shape Political Conceptions. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Gergen, D. (2016, April 20). How Trump recaptured the momentum. CNN. Retrieved from

Lakoff, G. (2011). Metaphor and war: The metaphor system used to justify war in the Gulf. Retrieved from (Original work published 1991)

Larraín, J., Aronofsky, D., Liddell, M., Franklin, S., Handel, A. (Producers), &Larraín, P. (Director). (2016). Jackie [Motion picture]. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Manchester, W. (1983). One brief shining moment: Remembering Kennedy.Boston, MA: Little, Brown.Manchester, W. (1983). Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Miller, F., & Varley, L. (2006). 300. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books. (Original work published 1988)

NR Symposium. (2009, February 23). The best conservative movies. National Review. Retrieved from

Nunnari, G., Canton, M., Goldmann, B., Silver, J. (Producers), & Snyder, Z. (Director). (9 March 2007). 300 [Motion Picture]. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Rondón, A. M. (2017, January 27). How to let a populist beat you, over and over again. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Seymour, G. (2007, March 9). On the field of this battle, war is swell. Newsday (

Stratford, S. J. (2013, November 21). Referring to JFK’s presidency as ‘Camelot’doesn’t do him justice. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Trump, D. & McIver, M. (2004). Introduction. In Trump: Think like a billonaire: Everything you need to know about success, real estate and life (pp. xiii-xxiv). New York, NY: Random House.

White, T. H. (1963, December 6). For President Kennedy: An epilogue [LIFEmagazine interview]. Theodore H. White Personal Papers. Camelot Documents. (doi: THWPP-059-009). John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

White, T. H. (1978). In search of history: A personal adventure (1st ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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I'm a Canadian professor and artist. I've published articles on women and culture, politics, Dungeons & Dragons, and on the work of JRR Tolkien.

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  1. Interesting piece. I’ve always been fascinated with the Kennedy myth. His death helped secure his legacy but he was certainly no shining knight of the left. It’s always easier to paint a glowing picture of someone once they are not here to mess it up with reality.

  2. Pacheco

    I am going to refer to the term “survivalist narrative” as of now. Thank you.

  3. Trump and the arts. I poisonous mix.

    • My Cochrane

      In 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored a series of public programs in our community addressing many of the concerns Trump supporters (and others) are most concerned about: deindustrialization, depopulation, and the general decline of small-town America, its causes and consequences in historical and geographical perspective, what the future holds for rural workers in a precarious economy especially. Public participation and response was thoughtful, enthusiastic and appreciative. I would encourage Mr. Trump to find out what these agencies actually do before axing them. Though I’m not hopeful on that front.

  4. I just realised… Trump is freaking Biff from back to the future. A loud-mouthed bully with more money than brains, who can resist wedgieing Mcfly, here in played by either muslims, Mexicans, and or Obama.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      That would make an interesting essay.

    • I’d love to think that a film about the memorable Donald would be a comic spoof; after all, how could we possibly vote our Donald into the White House? To me, I feel the most appropriate film title would be something along the line of “It’s a mad, mad, mad world” – maybe throw in a couple of extra “mads” to have an added touch of realism. Although the Mayans had the wrong date for the end of the world, I think their prediction of great change – and possible calamity – was absolutely right.

  5. Thomasine

    While Trump is a bullet to the arts; I believe it is deeper than that.

    Only a tiny fraction of Americans have ever cared about culture. Not that Europeans are much better; Europe just has the advantage that states took over from the monarchs they (largely) overthrew the practice of arts patronage. There never has been a tradition of state support for the arts in the USA.

    In fact, I daresay that the arts are more actively hated by the American majority now than, say, fifty years ago. The same goes for education, higher education in particular, and the reason is the same: back then the role of women was limited and subservient; blacks were even more marginalized; gays and lesbians kept their identities secret. There was a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in place in all but the most elite NYC circles — that’s how Oscar Wilde could tour opera houses in what are now Western ghost towns without being lynched. I don’t think David Sedaris would last long in a community center in a Nevada or Wyoming town of 1500.

    What we’re seeing, folks, is America becoming more America.

    • ‘Only a tiny fraction of Americans have ever cared about culture’.

      Absolutely… not true.

      They flock to movies and music of all sorts. Very little of which is as crass as Trump.

    • Art, and in particular, The fine arts are essential to the spiritual life of humankind.
      The act of creating a depiction of “truth”, a vision or experience of beauty, treachery, despair. debauchery & more informs and enriches society.

      Every great artist has been an innovator. All are rebels because speaking truth is their mission & established orders wish only beauty reflected back to them.

      T is anti self expression of the most visionary among us — the truth seekers — poets, Nobel level authors, performance artists, scientists.

      He is not only anti truth in all matters, his taste in material objects is garish, monumental, branded with a T, & a testament to his fundamental ignorance & distaste for culture & humanity.

    • There is no evidence that Trump even knows what culture is. A cursory look at this kitsch art in his towers and the crass decor in his Florida ranch is enough to tell you that.

      Then there is his appalling personal attack on Meryl Streep saying she is not a great actress.

      Her criticism was on his behaviour and policies. His ill-informed comment was a personal attack.

      Trump thinks he can act. He can’t. He can only be his crass self. He calls that acting. It isn’t.

  6. A fine writing style, Mr MacLeod, and always dispassionately precise analysis.

  7. Why can’t Trump see that his war on the media is bound to fail?

    • Jeff MacLeod

      I do wonder how all of this will play out.

      • Ami Contreras

        Because is isn’t going to fail. People lost faith in the media long before trump came on the scene. He took that loss of faith and ran with it. His stance gains him supporters. It is the media that needs to take a good look at itself.

  8. This is an excellent article.

  9. Leo Hite

    Try working with what you have, rather than what you would like to have. That’s my advice to post election humans.

    • Respectfully, you sound just like my grandmother.

      And she’s been dead for 15 years.

    • Trump is incompetent and in no way suitable for the office he holds.

  10. As long as there is an operational, semi-official state-run propaganda channel in Fox ‘news’ validating and normalising every factual event in favour of naked emperor snowflake, your going to have this problem. Murdoch doesn’t really care what’s true and objective, fact-based reporting. He just wants to shape the agenda and sell content. Fox relies on advertising. Concerted targeted campaigns aimed at advertisers have already seen him backed into a corner on sacking O’Reilly. You already know the way from here. Get to it.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Fox does support the survivalist frame and we live in a time where you can live in your frame/world and never have to emerge from it or be confronted by the counter-narrative.

  11. Enola Talbot

    Trump cares about one thing only…
    That and maybe his billionaire friends.

  12. I feel Jeff Daniels’ character in Dumb and Dumber is resembles Trump in terms of IQ. And I can’t think of a single fictional character who ranks with Trump for obnoxiousness.

  13. Martin Sheen’s Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone could well be an inspiration for all of them.

  14. fenmoon

    GREAT read Jeff.

  15. Rocky Horror Picture Show
    Including the following Acts:
    – The Time Warp – (Trump takes us back to the 1950’s)
    – Science Fiction/Double Feature – (Where Trump gets his ideas)
    – The Sword of Damocles – (What American Voters are facing this November)
    – I Can Make You a Man – (Let your imagination run wild on what this could be for Trump)
    – Wild and Untamed Thing – (A description of Trump’s campaign)

  16. I am not a Shakespere expert, but I am sure that one or more of his Tragedies would be closest to Kennedy’s White House. Lear or Othello.

  17. It seems to me that the whole Camelot thing gained a lot of traction “post assassination”.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Yes, as I argue in the article.

    • Rayford

      The Kennedy Camelot myth serves many purposes for many nations, organisations and individuals and that is why it survives as strongly as it does.

  18. Sharing this piece with family and friends.

  19. The Kennedy-Camelot emphasises on youth, looks and personal charm over experience and knowledge in political leaders, and idealises a particular view of politicians’ spouses and families which masks a nostalgia for monarchy. As much as US Presidents are now expected to be tall, good-looking, personable and touchy-feely, their First Ladies are also expected to be glamorous socialites engaged in charity work.

    The media did (and still does) a lot to promote the Kennedy-Camelot meme.

    Even here in Australia to an extent, politicians and their partners are expected to follow the Kennedy example, as if by becoming leaders they and their families have to give up any semblance of having their own personalities and inner lives.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Interesting comments – but, I do think it is possible to have personal charm and have knowledge of policy, etc. Indeed, I think it takes some artistic skill to cultivate your image, which is a form of knowledge.

  20. linewoman

    There was an episode of the Simpsons where in a future scenario Lisa becomes POTUS, and states that the economy was left in a terrible state by President Trump prior to her appointment.

  21. High-five! I am seeing Supernatural in a different light now! 😀

  22. There is a movie about the results of a Trump presidency: “Idiocracy.”

    • I believe “The Stand” echoes more closely.

    • We’ve already had a movie about what happens when Trump got in, it was called World War Two. Even if we get Peter Jackson to do the remake, it will only be about two hours long…

    • John Waters made a film about Trump, called “Hairspray”.

    • Trump makes Idiotacracy seem like a documentary.

  23. We’re all somewhat prone to resort to fantasy when things are bad.

  24. Christopher Knudsen

    Trump is an ad for what happens when a person remains uncultivated in spite of all the advantages he enjoys.

  25. Stacey Shomaker

    I don’t like Trump, he is a loudmouth and a blowhard, he has presented his supporters with a lie and they believe it.

    but I voted for him anyway, not because of the things he says and does, not because I believe him or in him, but for three reasons.

    1. Hillary was an even worse liar.
    2. I am from and dearly love the people who do support him.
    3. The Ruling Class in this country and in Europe live in a dangerous bubble that they can not see out of, they don’t understand or even care about the people who are subject to their whims and fancies, they have become arrogant and greedy and needed to be knocked down a peg or two.

    read this article and this thread from their eyes and you would see how smug and condescending you all are, but that’s the problem none of you can see it through their eyes.

    and that’s how we got Trump, I don’t see this dynamic changing anytime soon.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Point 3 describes the survivalists frame perfectly.

      • Stacey Shoemaker

        you say that like it’s a bad thing, “survivalist” or not it is true.

        • Jeff MacLeod

          I am not sure it is a bad thing.

          • Stacey Shoemaker

            then maybe there is hope for us all yet.

            there is a huge divide that has/is developing between people in both North America and Western Europe, I don’t want that divide to continue because it could lead to dire events that would harm us all. I feel strongly that the Elite section of our society is trying to force things on people who don’t want those things and do not believe in the same values and goals as the Elite, it is claimed that these things are done in the name of “inclusion” and “diversity” but there are millions and millions of people who are not buying that claim, yet they are being force to accept these things, this is creating massive tension and discontent, this needs to stop, these people can not be pushed much further without a violent outcome, and I don’t want that to happen.

            • Jeff MacLeod

              I agree. I hope none of this leads to serious violence.

              • Stacey Shoemaker

                one could say they are “rubes” or “hicks”, that they are stupid and don’t understand what is in their own best interest but that would be wrong, they are not stupid many of them are quite intelligent and they can see that they are being ignored, that our leaders have nothing but disdain for them, they see through the tactics of the Media and they are tuning it out in record numbers, but most of them just want to be left alone to live their lives without interference from an increasingly authoritarian government and it’s lapdogs in the Mass Media, they are turning away, they are ignoring and their hearts are hardening towards people they see as alien to them as “other”. I could point out specific things, specific events but that would be a meaningless exercise because what is happening and why has all been laid out and said better than I can say it by people smarter than I.

                what we all are really suffering from is a lack of freedom and that will continue and worsen as those in power continue this campaign of subjugation.

                is all this worth keeping Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in power?

                I don’t think it is… we would all be better off if the leadership of both major political parties were killed by falling space debris.

              • Stacey Shoemaker

                they have no faith in or trust of any political party, they have no faith in or trust of our social institutions such as Academia or the Press, they feel they have been forsaken, they see them all as the “enemy”, even sports has become a political weapon that they are turning away from.

                it is a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

                but let’s ignore them, because “Progress!” and “Inclusion!” and “Diversity!” and “Safety!” and “Social Justice!”

                these words have become a joke to them, they laugh when they hear them because they know they are not for them but only for the “other”

          • Stacey Shoemaker

            the people who have this “survivalist” outlook, feel like they are under siege, they feel like they are living in a foreign land, like everything they know and love is being slowly striped away and they are afraid.

            that is not good, it’s horrible and it could lead to tragedy.

            • Jeff MacLeod

              This is all an interesting commentary and your thesis that a large group of people feel ignored , to my mind, is very valid.

              • Stacey Shoemaker

                ignoring someone is disrespectful, it is a signal that you are unconcerned with their welfare and contemptuous of anything they have to say. It is a particularly dangerous thing to do to a very large group of people, even more dangerous if that group of people is a majority or near majority, it is asking for trouble.

                I will not name the group I am talking about, if I do I will immediately be labeled as some kind of “ist”, but you know and I know the group in question here, the fact that I fear naming them tells more than I can ever write about the frustration and helplessness so many of them feel… and even worse there are some who will read these words and say to themselves “well good, it’s about time that group get’s a taste of their own medicine”

                I don’t know when, I don’t know how but this state of affairs can not possibly end well, it must change.

  26. Ai Theriault

    Moving on to the Buffy article. Thank you for a great writeup.

  27. The best thing that can happen is for all current political parties collapse as none want to support the people they are suppose to represent. New parties are forming that actual want to listen to people and are growing in support from the people. Viva la revolution.

  28. John Carpenter’s “They Live” is a fitting metaphor of modern day politicians and the media. The media help hide the true identities of politicians to a gullible population.

  29. I believe it’s fair to suggest that the m.o. of many of today’s academics doesn’t improve the relationship between non-academics and the arts. So much of the talk among humanities critics and profs seems arcane; too many worship at the altar of complexity. (I’m a former academic, so don’t confuse this with an uptight-right rant against “pointy-headed intellectuals.”) And in high school, so far as I can tell, they stuff a student full of “rubrics” and busywork until he or she probably never wants to see another book. I think what people mostly want from art is entertainment and a chance to reflect on life in a way that makes sense to them. Our schools at every level should help them do that. Some of my best students in college were older folks who didn’t really appreciate literature on their first go-round (in high school or college), then realized they had missed out on a valuable experience away from the fray. The second time around, they really enjoyed their time spent with Shakespeare, Milton, Robert Frost, or whomever.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      I am glad you and your students enjoy literature: I do, too. And I am a visual artist (oil painting and digital) as well as an academic.

  30. Agree with Stacey… having grown up in the South, it’s not hard for me to understand the many reasons someone would vote for him (even though I didn’t) or stick by the Republican party. The trend of painting half the country with a single brush is very troubling.

    Interesting article by the way, not enough articles try to understand how Trump thinks/ operates, most would just rather insult him.

  31. There was actually a hilarious low-budget ’80’s B movie, named “Pizza Man” that starred a young Bill Maher as a pizza man who stiffed Donald Trump out of $13 for a pizza. Trump appears towards the end of the movie and it does somewhat capture his irrational, meglamaniac qualities. It was written and produced by J.D. Lawton who had just come off writing screenplays for mega hits like Pretty Woman and some Steven Segal films and others. It’s very obscure and hard to find but worth checking out, if you can locate it.

  32. An alternative for Trump, is President of the Assembly, in Planet of the Apes.

  33. Thoughtful article.

  34. Irizarr

    Trump is what american capitalism deserves.

    • But, as the de facto leader of the entire western world, is he what we deserve?

  35. Emily

    I applaud you for taking such a divisive topic and comparing it with such detail and strong argument. It’s easy to just throw some buzzwords around and call it a day. I agree with what you say about art creates culture which creates politics. The Trump Administration saw an obscene trope and fully embraced it and now it’s biting them in the ass. The idea of Trump has gone from something as simple as a television rich-man to a governmental caricature.

  36. Marvel Lessard

    We need more intellectually stimulating content like this published.

  37. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    Such an arresting and disturbing title. A great read with a fascinating focus point that captures the zeitgeist of popular culture today. Excellent work Jeff.

  38. Thanks for this well-researched article. I’m definitely bookmarking it for future reference, and to share every time someone asks one of those Trump art questions on forums and in writing groups.

  39. lucyviolets

    This is an incredibly well-researched, detailed, and thought provoking article! Thank you for writing it!

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thank-you for your kind comment. It is a risk writing about such a politically sensitive topic, but comments like this convince me it is worth it.

  40. Stephanie M.

    Nice! 🙂 This is certainly a lot more interesting than the yelling and punditry of the news. It also really makes you think about whether or not you are a political pawn in a frame story (i.e., Camelot, 300, as Kennedy and Trump framed their administrations, respectively) and what you can do to remain informed.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thanks! You caught my point precisely – art and story matter in politics as much as any other aspect of culture and society.

  41. While I️ knew/understood some things in this article, there were a bunch that I hadn’t thought about or encountered, and, as such, really helped rethink my views on this election and Trump. The discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential election is one that’s only just being dug into and will develop further as the years go by, and I’m glad I got to read some of your perspective on it. Thank you for it!

  42. The most unfortunate part is his ability to really speak to his audience. The scary part is that his audience now has the presidential backing to be conspicuous with their hate.

  43. Well said!, Also great resourses.

  44. Super article! It is great to read something that digs deeper, trying to understand what is really going on. There is so much Belief in all this, on both sides, that I think the public can’t get beyond it.

  45. Jeff MacLeod

    Not sure that hold water, as Trump is part of the establishment, unless he fooled 62 million voters.

  46. Heather Lambert

    This is amazing. I can totally see how this survivalist narrative can create a population that craves to be heroes and reject the powers that be, and Trump certainly fits the “outsider” image. Love the comment about the red baseball cap. Unfortunately Trump isn’t as outside of the system as his followers seem to think he is. In the end, he’s just capitalizing on this culture. Thanks for the article!

    • Jeff MacLeod

      I agree with you, he donned the outsider stance, I am just not sure it is authentic – but it got him elected.

      Thanks for your comment.

  47. is this article talking about his book?

  48. I agree with you for the most part in this article.

  49. This is a very well written article! I found the fact that you drew similarities between Trump and 300 to be super interesting; it’s definitely a unique outlook on why the 45th was so successful.

  50. Very interesting article to read. The comment about the red baseball cap was great. It took a little while for some arguments to sink into my mind and I think the article could have been simplified slightly. But that’s probably just because I’m reading this while exhausted. It was great to read something about Trump that was more analytical than accusatory. I also feel as though a lot of this article could be attributed to other world leaders – and leaders in general.

  51. Interesting material. I would argue some points in “Arts in Politics” but it was interesting opion

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thanks, Rusi. This is a theory I’ve advanced for awhile and I know there is much to debate in it – I welcome that.

  52. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    A good piece. Trump, perhaps more so than other Presidents, has simplified the world–which is his appeal to his hard-core voters. Most people want simple solutions to complex problems–when people get their news from TV and read little or none at all–that is what happens. Hopefully, Trump’s simple solutions (such as the potential for trade wars on an escalating level) do not cause harm on a massive level. Doing good for the country is one thing, believing you are doing good but not listening as astute, detected observers suggest caution and worry about consequences, is another.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thank-you. I accept your analysis that most of our political content is mediated through electronic media, and as a result some quiet, thoughtful discourse is being overlooked.

  53. Pamela Maria

    Fascinating analysis of the art of imagery in politics and how much ‘political mythos’ Trump uses. The red cap metaphor was definitely a huge image in making him appear to be ‘the everyday man’. As for the survivalist narrative, your article has definitely made me re-think just how powerful slogans like “drain the swamp” are, since he’s drawing on the murky, monstrous mythos that already surrounds bogs and swamps with pristine Washington. Well done!

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thank-you for this commentary. Trump’s image is more than a picture; he knows his frame and how to activate it with his supporters.

  54. peterzt

    could be cool to delve into the importance of Trump’s extra-political notoriety shifted the election. Similar to other celebrities-turned-politicians, in the USA, as well as abroad. India has had multiple cases of this, to interesting results.

  55. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    A good essay. Your discussion of the 300 and Camelot related to two different presidents is very perceptive.

  56. I strongly agree with the article that Trump would often over-simplify complex issues but it made it very effective.

  57. Very interesting. I’ll gave to read the whole thing again to catch it all— but I’m very intrigued with the connection to Xerxes and the imagery in “300”. I was fascinated by that film too— and I agree that its immediacy is similar to a Trump rally or speech— no nonsense, no moralizing, just gut reaction, blood and gore and feelings!

    I have a book out called “A Trump Diary: how I suffered through the bullshit, talked myself down, and survived the first year of the apocalypse.” This is why your title caught my eye— I like your take on this topic and would be interested in reading more.

  58. Very interesting. I’ll gave to read the whole thing again to catch it all— but I’m very intrigued with the connection to Xerxes and the imagery in “300”. I was fascinated by that film too— and I agree that its immediacy is similar to a Trump rally or speech— no nonsense, no moralizing, just gut reaction, blood and gore and feelings!

    I have a book out called “A Trump Diary: how I suffered through the bullshit. . . (Longer title) ” This is why your title caught my eye— I like your take on this topic and would be interested in reading more.

  59. Good piece. And re-affirms my view that culture is a site of politics, not merely a reflection of it. Politicians and those in public life know this instinctively, as did Jackie Kennedy, and does Donald Trump.

  60. This is interesting. Can we analyze Brexit in the same way? In this case it is not so much about the image or presentation of a particular person (with the possible exception of Boris Johnson), but images are still involved — the supposedly corrupt non-responsive government is the EU.

  61. Joseph Cernik

    I just re-read your essay, since I’m working on an article addressing Trump and your piece is still good. Obviously, it was written pre-pandemic and it still holds true.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thanks, Joseph. President’s Trump’s attitude toward masks seems to sustain the survivalists frame; as the mask has become a political symbol and not wearing one denotes support, for some, for anti-state, pro-survivalists imagery – not unlike a MAGA hat.

  62. Did Trump win? Or did a heck of a lot of people simply get fed up with politics as usual, or did a mass of people resent being called deplorables and Wal Mart people or was there truly a backlash against Obama as some have hypothesized. Perhaps there was some cunning manipulation on Trumps part regarding the electoral college-I mean after all, how bring was Hillary during the campaign and was Trump simply a better strategist and tactician? And let’s not forget baggage- Sure- Trump had some baggage with some women probably- but Hillary’s baggage was certainly quite different ( Benghazi)and her inability to monitor Bill ( they were supposed to be married-right? ) and of course the debates- what the heck?? Who goes wondering around on stage during a debate—certainly no average politician….

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thanks for reading my article.

      You make sound observations, but they don’t seem to address President Trump’s cultural/political appeal to a marginalized community who do not have any shared lived experience with him. Trump was born wealthy and lives a billionaire’s lifestyle (with no military experience). My point is he was able to occupy their cultural frame and convince this group he shares their values – my article attempts to address how he pulled that off.

  63. Abhimanyu Shekhar

    I fully agree with the survivalist tendency being robust but vague and your analogy to Supernatural is actually very, very realistic (one of the shows I grew up watching). In fact, I believe there’s a survivalist syndrome and it’s not permanent and can be sort of “obtained” if you’re faced with a set of specific circumstances.

    • Jeff MacLeod

      Thanks! I, too, am a Supernatural fan. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe Sam would vote Democrat, I am not sure about Dean, I could see him voting for President Trump. The brothers both fit into the survivalist frame as I describe it. Again, thanks, I appreciate your interest in my work.

  64. Jeff MacLeod

    Hi, I just posted an abridged and revised version of this Trump essay in the “Conversation”. Please let me know if you liked it.


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