When Trump was elected, pundits and plebs alike echoed the meager silver lining that “really good art was going to come from the Trump era.” While there have been plenty of examples of excellent, timely art, for me, one piece rises above the rest: comedian and writer Megan Amram’s Trump tweets. An unconventional contender, the tweets have been posted daily since May 2017, each repeating the sentence “Today was the day Donald trump finally became president” verbatim. The sentence regurgitates a Trump hot take that seemed deeply incorrect even in the earliest days of Trump’s presidency. However, far from its simplistic premise, the series of tweets actually cuts to the heart of the key national anxieties in the post-2016 world. Through Twitter and comedic power of repetition, Amram captures the essence of this absurd era—a paradox of constant change and stagnancy—all in under 140 characters.
In fact, I would argue that Amram’s tweets aren’t just significant in this particular era, but carry cultural weight by continuing a history of text-based art, including the incomparable Jenny Holzer. Since Holzer made her first splash on the art scene in the 1970s, her work has dealt primarily with the manipulation of context and meaning. Her early work, Truisms (1977-9), showcased a mash-up of lines copied a variety of thinkers like Karl Marx and Susan Sontag. In On War, a 2017 exhibit, Holzer broadcast text describing harrowing accounts of war onto the walls of Blenheim Palace in England. In Holzer’s work, it’s clear that the text alone doesn’t make the piece, but, instead, it’s the viewer’s experience with the text that encapsulates her arts full impact. By displaying these words outside their original context, Holzer opens up space for the viewer to understand the words in new ways. VICE writer, Hannah Ewens explains that Holzer often employed the language of advertisers and that her “pieces were created to be found in public, jolting people into questioning so-called truths—the "usual baloney" we're fed.”
Amram’s tweets pose the same task to the viewer. But while Holzer uses mediums like solid-colored paper and a projector to create her pieces, Amram goes to Twitter, the ground zero of media messaging. Amram is able to make her statement through Twitter by swimming against its cultural current. Twitter practically runs on hot takes, especially with regards to Trump, but returning regardless to the same message jarringly halts this continual flow of opinion. As a singular tweet, Amram’s message could easily fall into the landfill of opinions that makes up Twitter. But the dogged repetition grabs the audience’s attention, leading the viewer to meditate more deeply on her message.
The choice to use Twitter as the platform for her messaging also allows Amram to reflect the unique paradoxes of the Trump era, specifically the overwhelming contrast between the rapidity of the news cycle and a sense of inevitable political stagnancy. Even as some of the most absurd and obscene controversies in US political history come to light and evidence of Trump’s guilt is laid clear and bare in the impeachment hearings, it seems like people and politicians have, for the most part, already chosen their camps. In essence, Amram’s tweets seem to say that we can dress up the days' news in whatever hot takes we want, but the same uncomfortable truth will always linger at the core of the Trump Presidency, the feeling that everything that shouldn’t be is simply destined to occur.
But like Holzer’s work, Amram’s tweets offer a subjective and fluid experience to their readers. The emotional impact of the sentence “Today was the day Donald trump finally became president” changes completely depending on the news of the day. In the midst of the family separation crisis, for instance, the statement acts as a grim reminder of the malevolence of the people in power. After the news of the Ukraine call, on the other hand, it brims with delightful irony. Perhaps the best evidence of this aspect of Amram’s tweets is the engagement levels that rise and fall with the news cycle. One of Amram’s most liked Trump tweet was published on August 21, 2018—the same day news broke that the Presidents’ lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations. For comparison, while that tweet earned upwards of 10,000 likes, Amram’s tweets have earned as little as 75 likes on a slow news day. This is a perfect illustration of the genius in Amram’s tweets. As Holzer did before her, she’s tapped into all possible meanings of a single sentence and, in turn, offers it to her followers as a unique lens through which to read current events.
Repetition is, in a sense, a test of endurance, which, if done right, can take an audience on a psychological journey. A comedic peer to Amram’s Trump tweets is the popular sketch “Kristen Schaal is a horse” performed by comedians Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal. In the sketch, Schaal dances around like a horse while Braunohler cries out the refrain “Kristen Schaal is a horse” until he is blue in the face and his words are unintelligible. The comedians discussed the sketch on an episode of the podcast, Radiolab, called “Loops”. They described that throughout the performance, which once lasted as long as 10 minutes, the audience journeys through every emotion from love to hate to frustration and back to love again. Host Simon Adler accurately described the crux of the joke, noting “your (the audience’s) brain is trying to make it into what you want it to be, which is a joke, but there is no joke happening. What these two people are doing is creating the expectation that the expectation is going to be broken, but then breaking that expectation by delivering the [same] thing.”
Amram’s chosen phrase similarly toys with the audience’s emotions, embodying the sentiment of the statement while also mocking it. The notion that Donald Trump could be presidential would mean that this modern craziness has miraculously come full circle, with the scales finally tipping in favor of sanity. Amram’s inclusion of “finally” only emphasizes this teased catharsis. But the audience, like Amram, knows that this isn’t the true moment of catharsis we were hoping for and understands how unlikely this swing towards sanity feels. Tomorrow, we know Amram will tweet the same thing all over again, voiding all previous claims that it was today Donald Trump finally became president, that today was the day the world would right itself. The cycle will continue again, and we will stay on that cusp of hope that things will change, feeling increasingly deluded.
This sense of delusion is reflected in the post-2016 fracturing of the routine and the mundane. The Trump Presidency makes a highly convincing case that things tend towards chaos. In theory, it’s easy to understand the common reminder that “This is not normal.” But how can you fully digest that concept when the lack of normalcy is so constant it threatens to fade, at times, into background noise? It’s an unsustainable yet seemingly everlasting state that is, quite literally, mental illness provoking. Given the mounting evidence otherwise, each reading of the phrase “Today was the day Donald trump finally became president” only seems to deteriorate its meaning and heighten its absurdity. It ultimately leaves the audience with the feeling that to call Donald Trump “presidential” makes just as much sense as calling Kristen Schaal a horse.
photo from Twitter
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Sophie Hayssen is a blog and newsletter editor at BUST. Her work has appeared in Rookie, Teen Vogue, and Women's Media Center. She is a born-and-raised New Yorker who currently lives in Brooklyn. You can find more of her work here.