Trump: False God

Update: A 18" x 24" screenprinted version of this poster is now available at my Etsy shop.

Golden bust of Donald Trump

[Trump rally regulars] describe, in different ways, a euphoric flow of emotions between themselves and the president, a sort of adrenaline-fueled, psychic cleansing that follows 90 minutes of chanting and cheering with 15,000 other like-minded Trump junkies.
“Once you start going, it’s kind of like an addiction, honestly,” said April Owens, a 49-year-old financial manager in Kingsport, Tenn., who has been to 11 rallies. “I love the energy. I wouldn’t stand in line for 26 hours to see any rock band. He’s the only person I would do this for, and I’ll be here as many times as I can.”

— Michael C. Bender, Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2019

Sixteen months before the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump was already in the midst of touring the southeastern US, holding rallies to support his 2020 re-election bid. During his initial run for the 2016 election, he held 323 rallies, creating a wake of fans who held onto every one of his words, whether by speech, interview, or tweet. Some diehards would even follow him across the country like deadheads following The Grateful Dead, attending dozens of rallies.

There’s no doubt that Trump is charismatic and has mesmerized a particular segment of the American populace. His approval ratings during his presidency never dropped below 34%. They admire his willingness to shake up the system and say what’s on his mind, unafraid of backlash for being politically incorrect. 

But Trump is a media-savvy Svengali who has been cultivating his public persona for decades. He went from being a frequent mention in the New York City tabloids to national notoriety when his reality show, The Apprentice, portrayed him as a take-no-prisoners, self-made billionaire business tycoon. 1  

His charm and ego carried him into the presidency in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College but losing the popular vote by 2.9 million. Once he became the most powerful man on the planet, Trump’s narcissistic tendencies only grew worse. 

At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Trump reacted by saying there was “blame on both sides,” adding that he believed there were “very fine people on both sides.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Trump to be the country’s moral compass. “You’re the president of the United States. You have a moral leadership obligation to get this right and not declare there is a moral equivalency here.” But Trump fed on the adoration of his fans, saying, “These people love me. These are my people. I can’t backstab the people who support me.”

Donald Trump would shore up that support up to and after the 2020 election. On November 7, 2020, three days after Election Day, Joe Biden was declared the winner by the Associated Press, Fox News, and other major networks. Trump didn’t concede and would launch a campaign calling the election rigged and that he had won, without evidence.

There was no evidence of widespread election fraud. More than 50 lawsuits alleging fraud or irregularities were dismissed by the courts—many of whom were Trump appointees. But Trump, desperate to hold onto his power, fueled by his unbridled narcissism, called on his supporters to “stop the steal” by marching to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the day the election was to be certified by the United States Congress. On December 19, 2020, “Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of angry Trump supporters descended onto the US Capitol after being riled up by a speech by President Donald Trump. They stormed the building, overwhelming the Capitol Police, injuring many of them, and causing lawmakers to flee for their lives. 

The FBI estimates that as many as 2,000 people were involved in the attack. More than 850 people have been charged so far. Many told authorities that Donald Trump told them to go to Washington, DC that day, march on the Capitol, and disrupt the certification ceremony.

Donald Trump is now the subject of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, and is likely under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.

In Bellville, Texas, about an hour northwest of Houston, a shrine to Donald Trump was erected in 2020, months before the November election and the attack on the Capitol in January. A burger joint named Trump Burger sits next to a Cricket Wireless store and across from a triangular dirt lot. Among the open-flame grill and buns branded “TRUMP,” are photos of the smiling former president and T-shirts that say “Jesus is my savior. Donald Trump is my president.” The restaurant’s owner, a second-generation Lebanese-American, loves Trump’s economic policies while he was president. Moreover, he admires Trump’s businessman reputation since he is a business owner himself. Blue “Trump 2024” flags adorn most walls of the restaurant. Even tiny “Trump 2024” flags on toothpicks hold burgers together. 

In her closing statement during the Select Committee’s July 21 hearing, Republican Representative Liz Cheney said, “And every American must consider this. Can a President who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of January 6th ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?”

The followers of Donald Trump see him as a god. They decorate their homes and businesses with his likeness. They wait hours in line and gather to hear his sermons. They heed his every word. But he is a false god. His supporters may not realize or are willfully ignorant of Trump’s narcissism. He has been a menace to American democracy not because of his ideology, for he has none. Instead, he has brought our democratic experiment to the brink because of his lust for approval.

Trump will likely make another run to become president again. To save our country, we cannot allow that to happen, for he is who our Founders warned us about.

When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

— Alexander Hamilton, in a note to George Washington, August 18, 1792

...

I collaborated with Roberto Vescovi again, who modeled the Putin bust I used in the “Putin: False” poster. Mr. Vescovi sculpted the Trump bust. The final scene was composed in Cinema 4D and rendered using Redshift. The poster was assembled in Photoshop. 

References

Bender, Michael C. “‘It’s Kind of Like an Addiction’: On the Road With Trump’s Rally Diehards.” Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2019.

“1980s: How Donald Trump Created Donald Trump.” NBC News, July 6, 2016.

Lempinen, Edward. “Despite drift toward authoritarianism, Trump voters stay loyal. Why?.” Berkeley News, December 7, 2020.

McAdams, Dan P. “A Theory for Why Trump’s Base Won’t Budge.” The Atlantic, December 2, 2019. 

“2016 United States presidential election.” Wikipedia, August 6, 2022.

“Timeline of the 2020 United States presidential election (November 2020–January 2021).” Wikipedia, August 2, 2022.

Clark, Doug Bock, Alexandra Berzon, Kirsten Berg. “Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth.” ProPublica, April 26, 2022.

Sherman, Amy. “A timeline of what Trump said before Jan. 6 Capitol riot.” PolitiFact, January 22, 2021.

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1 Never mind that he received a lot of help from his father, bankrupted six of his companies, and didn’t pay small business owners.

Putin: False

Update 3: This poster wins a Gold Award in the Graphis Poster 2024 Awards.

Update 2: A 18" x 24" screen-printed version of this poster is now available at my Etsy shop. It’s four colors: red, blue, black, and gold; and printed on thick 100 lb French Paper Co. cover stock. Proceeds will be donated to help Ukraine.

Update 1: I had copies of the poster printed in Kyiv and posted around the city.

“…I want a man like Putin
One like Putin, full of strength
One like Putin, who won't be a drunk
One like Putin, who wouldn't hurt me
One like Putin, who won't run away!”

— Lyrics from a popular Russian pop song, “One Like Putin,” from 2010.

Vladimir Putin has long been regarded as a divine hero in Russia. Propagandist imagery such as him riding shirtless on horseback, shooting a tiger with a tranquilizing dart to save a group of journalists, racing in an F1 car on a track, or defeating an opponent in martial arts, help cultivate an image of Putin as a strong, masculine savior—the only one who could lead Russia against the West. These and many more staged acts of supposed strength and bravery have turned him into a sex symbol in the country for women and a man’s man for men.

Evoking the biblical story of the Golden Calf, this poster calls out the worship of Vladimir Putin as a false idol or god. He is not the righteous leader many Russians believe him to be. Instead, he is a vengeful, scheming autocrat who assassinates those he perceives have wronged him or Mother Russia. And he wages wars with sovereign nations under the guise of anti-Naziism. 

Golden bust of Vladimir Putin, against a red backdrop, and below with the word FALSE in Russian and English

This cultish infatuation with Putin’s strongman qualities has extended beyond Russia’s borders to inspire the acceptance and admiration of other autocratic leaders, including Viktor Orban of Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister of Israel. But most chilling was the rise of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

The veneration of men as gods is incredibly dangerous to liberal democracies. 

The Putin 3D model was created in collaboration with Roberto Vescovi. The final scene was composed in Cinema 4D and rendered using Redshift. The poster was assembled in Photoshop. 

References

Oliver, John. “Putin.” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, February 19, 2017.

Sperling, Valerie. “Putin's macho personality cult.” (PDF) Communist and Post-Communist Studies, January 11, 2016.

Rachman, Gideon. “The international cult of Vladimir Putin.” Financial Times, January 31, 2022.


Update August 6, 2022: It’s posted in Kyiv.

Last month I reached out to fellow graphic designer Kateryna Korolevtseva who is based in Ukraine. I was searching for a local printer who would print this anti-Putin poster for me in the country. She recommended 24print in Kyiv.

I worked with the wonderful people at 24print, and they printed 30 copies of my poster and sent me some photos…

Protest poster mounted on some fencing
Protest poster affixed to a burned Russian tank
Protest poster affixed to a burned Russian tank
Protest posters and signs mounted on a fence
Protest poster held next to a burned Russian military vehicle
Protest poster mounted on some fencing

Update October 22, 2022: Limited edition screen print

To raise money for the victims of Russia’s inhumane war on Ukraine, I have screen printed a limited edition of this Putin poster. The poster was printed in Los Angeles, California on 100 lb. French Paper Co. cover stock, using four colors. The bust of Putin is printed in metallic gold with black ink for shading. It is a limited edition of 50, with each one hand numbered and signed by me. All proceeds will be donated to GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. The fund is being used to support Ukrainians:

Please support this effort by purchasing a poster from my Etsy shop.

Woman holding up a protest poster. Poster is an image of an angry Putin, with the word FALSE below in Russian and English.

Update July 14, 2023: Gold Award Winner

I am incredibly honored to have my “Putin: False” poster recognized as a Gold winner in the Graphis Poster 2024 Awards. This was a passion project after the invasion of Ukraine, and I am glad to have helped even just a little.

Visualizing Minority Rule in the United States

The leaked draft of the majority opinion of Supreme Court justices seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey created a political firestorm in Washington, DC, and across the country. But, leak aside, the ruling—should it become final—is shocking. First, it reverses a 49-year precedent about the federal right to abortion. And according to legal experts, the reasoning that author Justice Samuel Alito uses could undo rights such as same-sex marriage, the right to contraception, and interracial marriage.

In a report about the leak, NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson says the leak is ”…going to spark this bigger debate that we’ve been having about whether the United States is turning into a minority rule country. A majority of the justices on the court were appointed by presidents who didn’t get a majority of the popular vote. And in some cases, the conservative justices were confirmed by senators representing a minority of voters.”

On the surface, I knew she was correct, but I wanted to dive into the numbers and see for myself. Once I did, I wanted to create a visual to show it.

This data visualization is meant to show the cumulative power Republicans have been able to wield as it relates to the seating of Supreme Court justices. I’ve correlated two different but related sets of data into one view: the popular vote counts for every president who nominated a justice to the current court, and the populations represented by the senators who confirmed these justices. 

In our representative government, each state gets two senators. Both represent the total residents in their state. And as we know, the populations of all 50 states vary a lot. The senators of Wyoming, the least populous state in the Union, represent 289,000* residents each. In comparison, the senators of California represent 19.6 million* residents each, over 6,780% more! In other words, each resident of Wyoming gets an outsized voice in the US Senate.

Chart showing the nine current Supreme Court justices, with column graphs displaying the popular vote for each nominating president and the population represented by their senate confirmation votes

Methodology

I started by gathering all my data from primary sources and placed them into a spreadsheet:

To determine the representative power for each senator’s vote, I multiplied their state’s population by 0.5 for each “Yea.” If a senator did not vote or voted “Present,” 100% of the state’s votes would be determined by the other senator because the state’s residents still needed to be represented.

Then I charted the numbers onto two sets of column graphs for every current justice of the Supreme Court.

Opinion

In a democracy, citizens need to feel that their voices are being heard, and that their votes matter. But it is disheartening when the candidate you voted for doesn’t win, even when they received a majority of the votes. And when there is an issue such as abortion rights that 70% of the country supports, and yet a minority of people can block that issue, it further proves to many that our democracy is broken and no longer works for the people. 

(View the raw data here.)

US Census Bureau population estimate as of July 2021

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Update: May 8, 2022

It was pointed out to me that George W. Bush won the popular vote in 2004, which preceded his nominations of Roberts and Alito the the Supreme Court. Indeed he did. It was my oversight because Bush did lose the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 by 543,895, and that fact just stuck. But in Bush’s re-election bid, he beat John Kerry by three million votes. By the way, Mara Liasson makes the same mistake in the quote above. I have since corrected and updated my graphic. Apologies.

Art for Biden

Sometimes it takes a small push to get the creative obsessions going. Like the majority of the country, I’ve been appalled at Donald Trump’s presidency. From his administration’s cruel policies to just how awful of a man Trump has shown himself, I have been gritting my teeth for four years, waiting for him to lose his re-election bid. I was profoundly concerned about democracy in the United States and how it was being actively undermined by Trump and his band of far-right Republicans.

When Trump ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016, I made a poster and website called “Inside Trump’s Brain.” I knew back then how terrible of a president he would be, but had hoped he’d grow into the office. Boy, was I wrong.

So when Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination, I needed to do all I could to get him elected and make Trump a one-term president.

I donated. I talked to the few I knew who supported Trump. I joined Biden’s texting team. But then my friend Christopher Simmons put out a call to his network for artwork to show support for the Biden & Harris ticket. What began as a one-off for me turned into a series driven by not only the cause, but by a need to just make. I became obsessed with 3D typography and loops. The format on Instagram is about creating bite-sized animations that can catch people’s attention and make them pause their scroll for a few seconds.

Here are the pieces in the order in which they were posted. But do note that the “United We Stand” image came first. It was a collaboration with my very talented sister, Gloria. She provided the paintbrush textures and some color consulting.

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I am so glad that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won. Hopefully, I helped a tiny bit.

Agitprop in Times of Uncertainty

This was originally published as an item in Issue 005 of the designspun email newsletter.

Great art can be born out of great unrest. Anti-government, anti-evil propaganda harnesses the frustration and despair people feel in times of crisis. Mark Fox and Angie Wang (aka Design Is Play) are following up their award-winning “Trump 24K Gold-Plated” poster with a new series of anti-Trump agitprop. The pair have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund three posters, “Trump: Lord of the Lies” and a diptych called “White Lies Matter.”

From their Kickstarter page:

We designed Trump: Lord of the Lies to create a succinct mnemonic for Donald Trump’s corruption. Likewise, the White Lies Matter diptych crystallizes Donald Trump’s history of rhetorical flirtations with white supremacists. And after he is voted out of office, this work will add to the body of evidence that many Americans can still tell the difference between what is true, and what is false.

(Side note: I used Design Is Play’s No Trump symbol in my little anti-Trump agitprop, Inside Trump’s Brain, a single-page website to protest then-candidate Trump.)

Protest art is created all around the world. Hong Kong-based designers last year made many compelling posters. Most take the stance of solidarity in the face of an overbearing and overreaching authority. Hence images that reference the Galactic Empire from Star Wars or homages to Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

Raw defiance gives way to a more hopeful aesthetic from Shepard Fairey’s We the People series from three years ago. Slogans such as “Defend Dignity” and “We the Resilient have been here before” adorn striking portraits of people of color. I remember seeing so many of these during the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

In The New Yorker, Nell Painter highlights a couple of anti-racist artists from the 1960s, photographer Howard L. Bingham who took many pictures of the Black Panther Party, and Emory Douglas:

More intriguing to me now is the agitprop artwork of Emory Douglas, the B.P.P. Minister of Culture, which was published in the The Black Panther newspaper and plastered around the Bay Area as posters. Week after week, Douglas’s searing wit visualized the urgency for action, such as this image of children carrying photographs, one that shows police victimizing a child…

Bully

Here's my latest personal project…

Read more at the website.