Inmate number P01135809, Fulton County prison, is running for President—and he has a new portrait.
Donald Trump’s Georgia mugshot has been viewed more times than the 1969 moon landing, and maybe more times than the moon itself. Trump used it to herald his return to Twitter, with the motto of “Never Surrender!” at 9:38 pm New York time, and it was viewed 100 million times before dawn. Add to that the millions who saw it on other parts of the internet, on television news broadcasts, and on the front pages of their morning papers all over the world, and it is certain that no image in human history has been viewed by more people within 24 hours of its release than this particular photo of the once (and future?) President Donald J. Trump.
The iconic image of the twenty-first century will not be Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster, showing the young candidate looking to the clouds, quietly pensive, ears akimbo. That was 2008. This is now. Trump’s photo is heavy-browed, scowling, and mean. It’s a street-cred rapper photo, and it seems certain to solidify Trump’s support among an emerging Republican vote bloc: African-American men. If Trump can flip black men in 2024 like he flipped Hispanic men in 2020, he can win the presidency. His persecution at the hands of an out-of-control criminal justice system certainly won’t hurt him.
The contrast between the iconic Obama and Trump images is more telling than might appear at first glance. The Obama poster was designed by a left-wing activist artist named Shepard Fairey. He based the poster on a photograph shot by the (presumably) Hispanic-American photojournalist Mannie Garcia, but never gave credit. Worse, Fairey was later found guilty of fabricating and destroying evidence in an attempt to evade paying copyright to Garcia. That’s right: a white left-wing activist shot to fame and fortune by stealing the work of a minority journeyman artist, then got caught lying about it. Trump’s iconic image, by contrast, is the honest desert of a dishonest indictment, a memory not of perfidy but of good old-fashioned American defiance.
Donald Trump’s mugshot is an era-defining image that will go down in history as the shot seen round the world. The proverbial ‘shot heard round the world’ was the opening shot of the American Revolutionary War. The phrase was immortalised by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the opening stanza of his hymn to the memory of the Minute Men, the citizen farmers of Massachusetts who turned back the British redcoats in the 1775 Battle of Concord:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Today, the educated urbanites of New York and Boston remember the American Revolution through the rap lyrics of the Broadway musical Hamilton—or through the racialised hyperbole of the New York Times 1619 Project. But for the first 200 years of the republic, most Americans learned a decidedly more demotic version of their national origin story, focused on the Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty who orchestrated the Boston Tea Party, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Patrick “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” Henry, Nathan “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” Hale, and the winter suffering of the soldiers at Valley Forge.
Americans have always idolised the Founding Fathers as an abstract and undifferentiated grouping, but until recently their children learned about the American Revolution primarily through such accounts of heroism and sacrifice. This suited conservatives and progressives alike: conservatives, because of the appeal to traditions of virtue and patriotism, and progressives, because of the emphasis on the agency of ordinary people. And indeed the crossover quality of America’s twenty-first century populist wave can be seen in the convergent popularity of Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. These two men may literally incarnate the urban elite of New York and Boston (respectively), but their popular support comes from the workaday world of Middle America.
The rich men north of Richmond, of course, will never vote for Donald Trump. But the amateur singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony’s protest anthem Rich Men North of Richmond has been played more than 40 million times on YouTube and streamed countless more times on a dozen other platforms. That’s not conclusive social science, but it is an interesting data point. Establishment political polls have Trump neck-and-neck for 2024—the same polls that had Biden up by 5-10 percentage points just before the 2020 election. And if social desirability biases dissuaded independents from admitting their support for Trump in 2020, how much more so must such biases be in operation amidst the current hysteria? The betting websites’ longer than 3-1 odds on a Trump victory are starting to look very attractive.
Salvatore Babones is The Philistine