It’s not exactly news that President Trump would prefer a more circumscribed news media, which he has described as “the enemy of the American people.” And despite his previous success as an entertainer, he apparently doesn’t think much of artists’ freedom of expression, either. Early on March 15, as is his wont, Trump tweeted grumpily, “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”
Now, if the West Coast rapper and Martha Stewart collaborator had, in fact, discharged a weapon at the president of the United States, he would be in custody right now (if, in fact, he had made it out alive). But Snoop Dogg did nothing of the sort: Instead, the president was responding to a new music video in which the rapper fires a revolver at a clown who resembles Trump. The only thing that comes out of the barrel is a flag that says “Bang!” The clown is seen a moment later, wrapped in chains, pointedly being denied a hit of marijuana by his captors.
In so much that the video, for a remix of a song called “Lavender,” is any threat to Trump, it’s to his dignity. The clown’s boxy suit, flapping tie and overly large shoes are so close to what Trump actually wears that it calls attention to the president’s lack of style, in the same way that Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonations suggested that Trump’s florid personality and style needed no embellishment to be ridiculous. “Klump,” as the stand-in is called, seems dopey and ineffectual; his car is full of scantily clad women in clown makeup, and he’s taken aback by the ambush. He wants to “Deport all Doggs,” according to a fictional cable news chyron, but the emphasis is less on Klump’s menace than his goofiness.
This isn’t a depiction of an assassination, even a silly one. And even if it were, Snoop Dogg would have an absolute right to make it.
When it comes to politics, one thing art can do that the conventional news media and politicians themselves can’t is create space to talk about the impossible and the unsayable. That can mean imagining the worst possible consequences of a Christian theocracy without being labeled a hysteric, as Margaret Atwood did in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It could include laying out a vision for the colonization of Mars at a moment when governments were showing less interest in space exploration, as Kim Stanley Robinson did in his Mars trilogy, which began publication in 1993.
And art could also explore the motivations a character might have for wanting to kill the president of the United States, the means by which they might be successful and the ramifications of that assassination. This would be a legitimate enterprise no matter who the president is, helping audiences look at everything from sharpening political cleavages and a deteriorating national climate, to the security arrangements around the president, to the potential fallout of such a dreadful crime.
It’s entirely appropriate to harbor grave worries about what it meant that Americans were lynching effigies of the first African American president, or to consider what it means that someone might fantasize about Trump’s death. But any liberal who suggested that artists should go to jail for depicting Obama’s assassination would be just as wrong as Trump was this week.
Now, as art goes, “Lavender” doesn’t actually hit exceptionally high marks; if Snoop Dogg wants to create a genuinely effective alternate universe, he might take notes from Outkast or Janelle Monae. But he is perfectly free to make mediocre art as well as good. As usual, Trump would be better off leaving questions of law and criticism to the professionals.
Of course Snoop Dogg has the right to depict Trump’s assassination – Washington Post