Trumpism: A Photo Essay

“USA in Stone” by Steven L. Taylor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over the last five years, we have spent a lot of time in northern/northeastern Georgia, southeastern Tennessee, and southwestern North Carolina–the area has become one of my favorites in the country, but I have also noticed (not surprisingly) that the area is rife with trumpistas. It is hardly unusual to see Confederate Battle Flags in rural parts of the southeast, and now they are also bespeckled with Trump flags and signs (in ways that no other candidate has inspired, in. my experience). I have taken a number of photos, although not as many as I would have liked (I already try my family’s patience with my photography as it is, and I also expect that if I stopped to take shots at some of these out-of-the-way houses, I different type of shots might come back my way).

Here’s an example from a snap out the car window that I took on December 30th near Black Rock Mountain State Park in northeastern Georgia that came to mind in relationship to two previous posts today (James Joyner’s and mine).

The erasure of Pence from the sign (something I have seen before) is especially telling given the context of 1/6 and underscores how there are voters out there who take the lies about the election seriously and believe that Pence really could have (and, indeed, should have) overturned the electoral votes from GA, PA, et al.

The house with this yard sign was adorned with the following:

Look, the notion that a Trump supporter would want him back in 2024 is not out of the question. Although, the Schwartzeneggeresque slogan is likely not an accident. It also made me think of this, from near Blue Ridge, GA in July of 2020:

Trump Banner

And yes, I know that image is a riff on Stalone, the whole action-movie imagery is consistent with the slogan above. It is also hard to take this kind of thing seriously, but nonetheless, the person who hung this barrier clearly did so unironically.

Here are some other examples from the summer of 2021. This is another car shot. The sign says “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.”

Some other examples of pro-Trump symbolism from the GA/TN border. The declaration that a person voted for the other candidate is pretty standard, and while “not my president” has also been a bipartisan affair, its growth is not positive for our political culture.

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The following are noteworthy, and I found the second one to be an interesting amalgam of Trumpism and American folk art.

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There are numerous examples I have not had the chance to photograph, but one gets the idea.

I am no expert on political symbology, but I do find the coincidence of areas that have long flown the CSA Battle Flag to now be rife with pro-Trump symbols to be an interesting convergence of two different Lost Cause mythologies. There is also a significant linkage to various “way of life” mythologies (i.e., assertions of who “real” Americans are and how their ways of life are being threatened). And while these are all rural examples (which makes sense, given the way our parties cleave at the moment), I am sure one can find plenty of other examples outside that context (like the car I saw last summer in Charleston, SC flying the “Fuck Joe Biden” flag or the Oregon man who recently felt the need to declare “Let’s Go Brandon” to Biden on Christmas Eve, of all times).

I think part of this is attributable to Trump’s own genius (and yes, I mean that) at marketing (after all, the man had made a mint putting his name on things). As silly as I may think those red MAGA hats were, they were clearly smart marketing. The slogan “Make American Great Again” is hardly original was a marketing win. And whoever started selling Trump flags was also quite smart. People like flags.

Also, back to the Lost Causism of it all, I think that this is less about allegiance for Trump for Trump’s sake as much as it is that Trump came along and fit a void that people previously filled with CSA Battel Flags. I am not even entirely sure what I mean by that at the moment save that I think Trump and MAGAism fit a need for reactionaries in America more than it is the case that Trump came and made a bunch of people into reactionaries. I further believe that it was undergirded and exacerbated by America’s strict two-party system that forces voters into only one of two categories.

A lot of this is also linked very directly to the simple human impulse to join groups and how the sense of belonging to groups is suffused throughout our culture. Just consider how seriously many of us take our sports allegiances.

Indeed, I do think that there are some serious similarities between allegiance to sports and allegiance to parties–and would hypothesize that they have similar psychological roots (there is likely a dissertation to be written on this subject, assuming there hasn’t already been). At a minimum, the allegiances in question both are often emotional and irrational (i.e, people often come to them not because they reasoned it out, but because of their family or other inputs. Certainly, a lot of the behavior exhibited by rabid partisans and sports fanatics are the same (from flying the colors to the level of “analysis” one finds on sportstalk radio and television as compared to most political talk, whether on TV or the radio). And, really, the behavior of people (even very smart, very serious ones) on social media on election night is not that different from what one finds during sporting events. While I am aware of the disjuncture in the importance of the two topics (the winner of the Super Bowl is less important than the winner of the Electoral College), I think that most people consume politics in a very similar way to how they consume sports.

At any rate, the above do show the mindsets of many–and I will endeavor in the future to be a bit more purposeful in photographically capturing more in the future.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Photography, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    It’s often said that politics is show business for ugly people. Maybe politics is also sports for physically weak people. Clobber ’em on election night if you can’t clobber ’em on the gridiron.

    The “U.S.A. in Stone” image is remarkable.

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  2. Kathy says:

    I am not even entirely sure what I mean by that at the moment save that I think Trump and MAGAism fit a need for reactionaries in America more than it is the case that Trump came and made a bunch of people into reactionaries.

    Benito did two things. One, the obvious, is he made bigotry respectable, again. If such a personage as Benito the Cheeto is a bigot, then it’s ok. He made billions, didn’t he?

    The other is less obvious. you know how the right has been abuzz about how whites are really the ones who face discrimination and all so-called minorities are the privileged ones? Now you have El Tiny complaining incessantly about how unfairly he’s treated.

    Well, he made billions, didn’t he? he’s rich and important. Surely if he can’t catch a break, the rest of them have no hope at all.

    He is a miracle worker. he turned fantasy into reality, or at least made it look that way.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    While I am aware of the disjuncture in the importance of the two topics (the winner of the Super Bowl is less important than the winner of the Electoral College), I think that most people consume politics in a very similar way to how they consume sports.

    Considering the fact that the media report on politics in the same way they do sports, is it any wonder “most people consume politics in a very similar way?”

    As for your photo essay, it’s the same here in the Ozarks, the die hards continue to let their freak flag fly. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the number of flags and signs that came down post election/1-6.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    No edit function. Wanted to ask where that first pic was taken.

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  5. Just nutha says:

    Trump and MAGAism fit a need for reactionaries in America more than it is the case that Trump came and made a bunch of people into reactionaries

    Indeed! I’ve felt for a long time that Trump was riffing on a zeitgeist held by a significant segment of the population (maybe calling for a recalibration of the “crazification factor”) than he is an agent of change. It’s still mostly true that you can’t sell people what they don’t want to buy.

    And for the header picture–the American Flag as simply another piece of graffito seems poignant to me. I don’t feel poignancy particularly often. Well done!

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  6. CSK says:

    @Just nutha:
    I’ve said this before, but I think Trump took a lesson from Sarah Palin. Word salad worked well for her, so why not for him?

    It’s more than that, of course. He took his own seething resentment at being shut out of the Manhattan haut monde and made it that of his fans. “It’s us against the elites who despise you and want to be your overlords.”

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  7. Just nutha says:

    @CSK: FG was doing word salad while Sarah was still trying to establish a career as a journalist (I watched The Apprentice). And resentment of teh eeleetes is also as old as the hills. But FG does seem good at self-promotion and finding the themes that are best to riff off of. Whether it’s a sense that he has or a product of trial and error, I dunno.

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  8. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Wanted to ask where that first pic was taken.

    Do you mean the top photo of the graffiti? It was taken at Bell Mountain State Park outside of Hiawassee, GA (not far from the NC border).

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  9. @Just nutha: I concur: his word salad is not a new thing. Palin helped paved the way, but I don’t think DT purposefully followed her nor emulated her.

    And the whole anti-elite thing is classic populist politics (but again, I don’t think Trump did that consciously).

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  10. @Just nutha:

    Well done!

    Thanks!

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, and thank you.

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  12. CSK says:

    @Just nutha:
    You watched The Apprentice? Brave man.
    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I think Trump’s exploitation of anti-elite sentiment was quite conscious. I’ve know about Trump since the eighties. This is a man who was desperate, absolutely desperate, to be accepted in the upper levels of Manhattan society and, being the hopeless vulgarian that he always was, was never, ever going to get it. Revenge is the motivator of his entire life. And no one despises the kind of people who show up at his rallies more than he does.

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    I’m curious about something. Back in 2015-2016, the commentariat here was split roughly in two, between people who thought Trump, while unethical, immoral, and predatory, was also pretty smart. And then there were those of us who thought Trump was a moron. (In fact, I could have saved myself time by programming a keyboard shortcut for, “The most important thing to remember about Trump is that he is a moron”.)

    So I’m curious, is there anyone still willing to put Trump in the non-moron category?

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  14. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Well, I always thought he was a dullard as well as a malevolent oaf. But he seems to have the ability to con people stupider than he is.

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  15. mattbernius says:

    I am no expert on political symbology, but I do find the coincidence of areas that have long flown the CSA Battle Flag to now be rife with pro-Trump symbols to be an interesting convergence of two different Lost Cause mythologies. There is also a significant linkage to various “way of life” mythologies (i.e., assertions of who “real” Americans are and how their ways of life are being threatened).

    Welp, this connection is going to be living rent free in my brain for the next few days. I had not drawn that “lost cause” connection in that way before and it feels like it could be a useful approach to thinking through these as a political and social movement.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @mattbernius: The number of trailers that fly both is indicative.

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK:

    But he seems to have the ability to con people stupider than he is

    I wouldn’t go that far. Even an intelligent person can get caught by a scam they are unfamiliar with. Trump has exactly one con, and it works or two different types of people. It’s simply this: “I am the worlds best businessman and I’m inviting you along for my next business deal, which will be amazing, because deep down, we are soulmates.”

    The two types of people? First, the obvious. Chumps that think he means it. He wows them for a while, then fleeces them for everything they have. The second type is more interesting. Those are the fellow wolves who know its a scam but think they are being invited in to fleece the sheep together (“…deep down, we are soulmates”)

    Donald Trump had three incredible pieces of “luck” in his life. Luck #1 – Being born to an incredibly wealthy man who really was a business genius. Luck #2 – That man being willing to let everyone believe that it was Donald that created the bulk of the business. Luck #3 – After his father was out of the picture and Trump blew the entire fortune (plus a lot of other peoples money) on increasingly stupid and outlandish schemes, and when he was essentially bankrupt, the bankers he owed a fortune too figured out a way to lessen their losses and, to Trump’s incredible good fortune, it required them to perpetrate the myth that Trump was a business genius.*

    *FWIW, the scheme was suckering upper middle class individuals to buy rooms in his hotel, one or two each, which the Trump organization would manage for them. The suckers believed they would get a vast return on investment because it was the greatest hotel in the world and Trump was a genius. These chumps were willing to pay way over the market rate because of Trumps con. In a further stroke of luck, the bankers wanted to get their money out as quickly as possible and then be shut of him, so they actually let him manage the hotel. What did they care who managed it? He saw what a good scam this was and parlayed that hotel management gig into a hundred variations, before ending on the most lucrative, (allegedly) using his real estate credentials to launder money for the Ukrainian and Russian mobs.

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Brave? Meh, not as much as you might imagine. The show was on during the time I was still suffering from a sleep disorder, so television’s most valuable trait was that it provided inputs that I didn’t need to think about so that my brain would shut off and I could get to sleep. I still mostly watch drivel on “the idiot box.”

    (Because they help me to fall asleep is also why I read “great works of literature.” Often, I can’t even finish a single page before the book has fallen out of my hands and onto the floor.)

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: As a subscriber to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, I would have to say that there are probably segments that he excels at. Whether that makes him “pretty smart” or an “idiot savant” is territory I don’t recall staking out. Still, even on the colloquial-level meaning of “moron,” I would have to say he doesn’t qualify. His incompetence is only exceeded by his self-esteem and lack of curiosity, but I’ve met lots of incompetent, uncurious, egomaniacs over the years who weren’t morons.

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  20. EddieInCA says:

    In a post a few days ago, I remarked about my inability to just understand these people, much less take them seriously. This is the VERY thing I was referring to. How does one have a conversation with such a person when simple facts can’t be agreed upon to start the dialogue?

    I believe every single republican should be asked the question: “Who won the 2020 election for President”? Every. Single. One. The answer will tell you all you need to know about the person.

    Now someone (Mu? Jay? Matt?) is going to say that such an action is painting negatively with too broad a brush against rural people. To that, I say BULLSH1T. If you believe the election was stolen, you don’t deserve the benefit of ANY doubt. You can’t claim to be a “good person”, yet believe that sort of nonsense. And it is nonsense.

    I’m tired of coddling these morons. They need to be called out for their stupidity.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA:

    How does one have a conversation with such a person when simple facts can’t be agreed upon to start the dialogue?

    And yet, unless we want to just give up, or put them into re-education camps, we must find a way.

    “We” here is a large collective we, which may not directly include you or me. I don’t know what to do with these people.

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  22. @CSK:

    I think Trump’s exploitation of anti-elite sentiment was quite conscious.

    Let me clarify: I meant that I did not think that Trump was consciously tapping into classic populism.

    I agree that he purposefully pushes an anti-elitism (while simultaneously pushing his own weird pro-elitism).

    This is a man who was desperate, absolutely desperate, to be accepted in the upper levels of Manhattan society and, being the hopeless vulgarian that he always was, was never, ever going to get it. Revenge is the motivator of his entire life. And no one despises the kind of people who show up at his rallies more than he does.

    I don’t dispute any of that.

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  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t know the mechanism, nor the answer, but there has to be a price paid for spouting bullshit repeatedly on public airwaves.

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  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    Very nice montage of images. Most are essentially reportage, though nicely framed. The stone image is art.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I believe every single republican should be asked the question: “Who won the 2020 election for President”? Every. Single. One. The answer will tell you all you need to know about the person.

    My thoughts word for word.

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  26. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    So I’m curious, is there anyone still willing to put Trump in the non-moron category?

    To paraphrase Asimov’s The Gods Themselves:

    He’s a moron with only one talent: the ability to convince other morons he’s a genius.

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  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    @EddieInCA: There are definitely people out there I can’t talk to any more. They’ve taken the deep dive. It’s not unlike the couple of people I know that joined a cult, though I personally resist calling Trumpists a cult. (Amusingly, they share a bunch of characteristics with 1st century Jewish apocalyptacists).

    And Stephen is documenting them. Just let me validate your feelings of “how do we even talk to someone like this?”

    But when we were talking about Mayberry and rural life, we were talking about a different set of people. It’s not the same group of people, though there is overlap. It isn’t the same motivation, though again, I suspect there’s overlap. There are some people who live in town who feel this way.

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  28. EddieInCA says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But when we were talking about Mayberry and rural life, we were talking about a different set of people. It’s not the same group of people, though there is overlap. It isn’t the same motivation, though again, I suspect there’s overlap. There are some people who live in town who feel this way.

    I’m guessing that the overwhelming majority of rural people believe the election was stolen. Every survey shows that. And the number is growing, which means that more and more people are choosing to not believe reality. So, I ask you again. How does one find common ground with those people not rooted in reality? I’m not willing to give them a pass because “they’re good people I’ve known for a long time.”. No. Screw them if they don’t want to deal with reality.

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  29. EddieInCA says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Ignore me, Jay. I’m just pissy about a whole lot of other things. None of it is intended at you personally. I’m tired of the GOP controlling so much of the political space despite being a clear minority nationally and even in most states.

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  30. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The bank thing reminds me of something Heinlein said in one of last novels, Friday: Borrow a dollar and the bank owns you. Borrow a million and you own the bank.

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  31. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @EddieInCA: Honestly, reality simply isn’t that important. It doesn’t matter who won the election. Who sits in the White House? The way you deal with these people is to stop being reactive and get ahead of them to shape future realities. You use their natural tendencies to move them in a way that maybe does sync with our understanding of facts…but nevertheless produces a response we can live with.

    This is counter-intuitive to Democrats I know but is the play. There comes a point where you have to decide how you want people to act…and make a story they’d believe to drive them to that behavior.

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  32. Jim Brown 32 says:

    I spend a lot of time on Florida’s back roads in the panhandle, central, and northeast Florida. Ive seen all these signs and 20 variations.

    These are mostly simple people whose instincts and cultural queues have been used against them. That doesn’t mean that we dont deal with them the way we need to…but we also have to understand how they got there.

    Its the same concept as paying some attention to the wallflower at the dance. She wanted attention, but there were much more popping choices that the guys were after. So she waited. I had a relative that targeted these types of women. Lets just say he won way more than he lost picking up wallflowers. A little flattery: “real America” and he could say no wrong afterward.

    The second concept Trump uses is called “mirroring” (or pacing). If you say what people are thinking in their minds voice, you develop instant repor with them. I guarantee that I could become a conservative sensation overnight..because I already know what they are thinking and can say it 100 different ways. And Im Black, so they’d amplify every rascist thing I said about Black people because it’d make them feel lest racist.

    Its not that Trump is genius because he doesn’t even do a good job of executing the Technique hes been taught. Its that the MF is BOLD…he went straight Andrew Dice Clay with dirty Old Mother Hubbard rhymes. 99% of people would think thats too simple and dumb to work.

    Barnum would disagree.

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  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @EddieInCA: I get that. Eventually, it gets hard to be in a room where all the air has been sucked out.

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  34. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: Just in case anyone needs a reminder, I’m now reading David Cay Johnston, The Big Cheat, which goes in depth into TFG’s eternal business/political/personal strategy.

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  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: These are the same people who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID. And I suspect when COVID finally dies down, they’ll carry the refusal over to other diseases like measles and whooping cough.

    We just have to stop rescuing them from the consequences of their own arrogance and stupidity.

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  36. charon says:

    @Just nutha:

    Whether it’s a sense that he has or a product of trial and error, I dunno.

    Largely trial and error. He uses rallies to test out riffs, themes. The history of the “Build the wall” slogan is instructive (it was suggested to him by his handlers/political consultants, really energized his rally crowds).

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  37. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    And yes, I know that image is a riff on Stalone, the whole action-movie imagery is consistent with the slogan above. It is also hard to take this kind of thing seriously, but nonetheless, the person who hung this barrier clearly did so unironically.

    I saw this great retort to those fantasy images of the big fat orange former guy in elevator shoes.
    https://www.reddit.com/r/PoliticalHumor/comments/e2t39f/seriously_just_go_jerk_off_to_a_heman_action/

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  38. matt bernius says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I believe every single republican should be asked the question: “Who won the 2020 election for President”? Every. Single. One. The answer will tell you all you need to know about the person.

    Now someone (Mu? Jay? Matt?) is going to say that such an action is painting negatively with too broad a brush against rural people.

    FWIW, I think that’s an important question to ask. I just don’t think a survey is the right way to ask it. I would prefer that be something that’s asked face-to-face in forum where you can get closer to a meaningful answer and have the opportunity to have a discussion about it.

    I also totally appreciate how that might appear to be a frustrating answer. And I also think that’s the most productive way to approach this particular challenge.

    @Jim Brown 32:

    And Im Black, so they’d amplify every rascist thing I said about Black people because it’d make them feel lest racist.

    Yup. Chris Rock’s disowned bits (including “I love Black people but hate N….) were huge gifts to these folks.

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