The Daily Heller: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Here we present an ex-POTUS-altfact-artefact-postfolio (souvenir edition) by Jeff Gates. With his background in political science and graphic design, living in Washington D.C. as a retired federal worker, designer and art director, Mr. Gates asserts "it’s not surprising I’ve found my personal voice in making political posters. In that respect, it is very satisfying ('and keeps me sane')." As an artist, this is the longest sustained body of work in Gates' 40-year career. Under the guise of the Chamomile Tea Party, he has made over 200 of these images over the past decade. And Donald Trump's actions have provided enough material to keep him very busy these past four years. Nevertheless, the Daily Heller hopes that this will be the last publication of this type of Trump-o-commentary.
In 2018, Google Arts & Culture published the first six parts of an online exhibition of this work called The Chronicles of American Politics. The platform allowed Gates to weave a written narrative connecting these posters. "I liken it to a visual history book of this era," he says about the work, which resembles a 21st-century John Heartfield. Google has just published the seventh chapter in this “book” that ends with Trump’s first impeachment. The images Gates has created in the last year of Trump’s presidency and during the pandemic will anchor the eighth chapter.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Gates did a photo documentary on the politics and the social effects on communities impacted by the building of a freeway through Los Angeles. Now, these political posters and the essays that accompany them are a documentary as well. This is a study of the sorry state of American political and social discourse, starting with the rise of the Tea Party and extreme partisanship to its present Trumpian incarnation. Eventually, "I’d like to publish an actual book of these posters with an expanded narrative."
This has been such an auspicious time in our history. The assent of an autocratic president shocked many Americans. And it’s taken Americans years to realize how tenuous our democracy is. Many still refuse to acknowledge it. The pandemic, with its resulting economic downturn and Trump’s inability to lead us through this critical time, has turned out to be a perfect storm. They have revealed our institutional and social weaknesses. "As I look back on these posters, many I did years ago are as germane as they were when I first created them," he asserts. We Are Our Own Worst Enemy, from 2019, voices his concern about domestic terrorism. Our laws allow us to closely monitor international terrorists, "but we don’t have similar tools to do so with the domestic variety, like those who attacked the Capitol two weeks ago. I’m not prescient, just observant."
Does this collection give Donald Trump more oxygen? "With a reported 15,000 who attacked the Capitol and 74 million who voted for Donald Trump, the amount of air I give to this demagogue is a small part of our national narrative," he adds.
As many do, Gates nonetheless wonders what a post-Trump/post-pandemic world will be like. "Will I feel it’s time to wrap up my documentary? The end of the Trump presidency may not be the end of my work. Despite what Trump thinks, it’s not all about him. Democracy is messy." Human nature being what it is, and Washington D.C. being a world center for the quest for power and control, Gates will always find something to comment on. No one thinks Joe Biden’s inauguration will result in an end to the rancor and discord or quell the chaos Trump has caused. "So, I’m not inclined to think my work will stop. Look, the worst that could happen is that unbridled harmony will break out and short-circuit my commentary. I could live with that."