“It is kind of a Trojan Horse”
This past September, as the Donald Trump campaign was ending its tour through Iowa, its official campaign bus was listed for sale on Craigslist at $15,000. Then the ad disappeared. The people who bought that bus were Mary Mihelic and David Gleeson, two artists comprising the collective t.Rutt. They turned the bus into a roving anti-Trump artwork that has now traveled across the country—including the Democratic National Conventional in Philadelphia and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month.
Inside, the bus—which once served as a party vehicle for bachelor parties— has been tricked out with anti-Trump art, including a sewing station where the artists embroider Trump’s outlandish comments on American flags. Mihelic and Gleeson recently drove the bus down to the border, where they erected the first section of his proposed border wall, a 52-cinder block structure adorned with a Trump 2016 yard sign and a number of other objects. GOOD talked to the pair about what it was like to drive an anti-Trump campaign bus during some of the most politically contentious events of our time.
How are people receiving the bus? What are some of the reactions you guys are getting?
Mary Mihelic: The reactions range. I would say about 50 percent of the people understand the bus when they first look at it, and 50 percent of the people think it's a pro-Trump bus. When people understand that it's the opposite of a pro-Trump bus, their emotions change. We watch that transformation with people and try to get them laughing about the bus, especially the Trump supporters, and then we really engage with them about Trump. We get all sorts of reactions. In Tuscon, Arizona, somebody mooned us. It was really funny. About every two minutes, when we're driving down the road, somebody gives us the finger. We've been keyed. We've been spray-painted. People have thrown ketchup and eggs at the bus. When people understand the bus, it's a big love fest. You drive down around the DNC or the RNC and you go down the block and everybody whips out their cell phone and takes photos of the bus.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]When people understand that it's the opposite of a pro-Trump bus, their emotions change... In Tuscon, Arizona, somebody mooned us.[/quote]
David Gleeson: I think one thing we're realizing is that the bus becomes a really important way for people to connect with their emotions about Trump… and where the country is. People really have an emotional response. We have some good positivity. But, as Mary said, it's initially pro-Trump people who are all excited. We do see them from all walks of life. It's a little fascinating to see that he does have support. It's not just “the angry white guys.” He has some other people who are just so fed up with the system.
Mihelic: We talk to everyone. We go to Trump rallies. They come over and talk to us. Because the bus has so many different things on it about all the different things Donald Trump has said, it has a lot of different ways to engage people about Trump. A lot of the times, veterans will come over and talk to us. We have "Save Water: Only waterboard on Monday, Wednesday and Friday" on the bus. So they start talking about how concerned they are about Trump bringing back torture and waterboarding and what that means for the military, and how they're really not happy with Trump about that, and that's the reason for them not to vote for Trump.
Artwork on the side of the bus.
How did you guys conceive of the project? You just saw that the bus was for sale on Craigslist and decided to buy it?
Mihelic: I saw it on Rachel Maddow, who talked about how Trump's campaign bus was for sale. I immediately called David up, and we could just see where this bus could take us the minute we knew it was sale. We bought it within 36 hours of seeing it for sale.
Gleeson: It was pretty quick. I didn't want the Trump people to have time to take the graphics off. But they were pretty much asleep at the switch. It's an old bus. It's a 1981 Motorcoach. It has over a million miles on it. We think we put close to another 15,000 on it in this project. And it has been used for bachelor parties, so it's a pretty sordid operation on the inside. It has a stripper pole in the back, and these tables for table-dancing, which we kept in the front. It's crazy that it would have ever been his bus. But it says "Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President” on both sides and it has his hashtags. It's just really bizarre. It's the only bus he ever used.
What modifications did you make to it?
Mihelic: Inside, in the front of the bus, we added a dashboard shrine after Trump got into a tiff with the Pope, because I'm Catholic and you don't mess with the Pope. We recently added a swear jar, because everyone yells 'Fuck Trump!' at us all the time, and we think people need to work on their vocabulary. Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court is draped in black fabric, so we roped off a double-wide seat in black fabric, just like it is on the Supreme Court. That's going to stay roped-off until they replace Scalia.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]It has a stripper pole in the back... It's crazy that it would have ever been his bus.[/quote]
Then there's also an area where we do a performance where we embroider Trump quotes onto American flags in an artwork called ‘Desecration.’ We open up the bus windows and people can see the embroidery machine going and we ask people what quotes they'd like us to embroider. It kind of juxtaposes his statements against American ideals by putting them on the flag. And then when you go deeper into the bus and more towards the stripper pole, the bus starts to examine into Trump's psychological and emotional state and what he's like like that.
Gleeson: Then we got a little bit funnier and had some fun in the bathroom. We wallpapered the bathroom with diplomas from Trump University. We always imagined the inside being a space where people could talk about him.
Mihelic: We're kind of an anomaly to the other protesters. They don't really know what to make of us, because we're not out there with picket signs. I think it's important to get out there and do that. But I also think it's really nice, with the bus, because we pull the Trump supporters in. It is kind of a Trojan Horse, as one art critic described it.
Mihelic embroiders Trump quotes on American flags in a section of the bus that is open to an audience.
You also took the bus to the border, where you erected a portion of the wall that Donald Trump promised to build using anti-Trump art.
Mihelic: We came up with this idea to build the first section of the wall on the border of Mexico, in front of the existing fence. We didn't really know what we were going to do. it was kind of impromptu.
Gleeson: We stopped off for gas [in this area called Jacumba]... and stayed at the hot springs. The next morning we were walking the ground and realized how close it was to the fence and we thought it had a wonderful feeling.
Mihelic: We contacted the landowner and found that this one person owned most of the town. He happened to be a nudist. We met with his wife and the next morning he agreed to let us build this wall there. We didn't know that he was a Trump supporter at the time. We found that out after the fact. He loves art. He was game. He wanted people to know about Jacumba Hot Springs.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]We wallpapered the bathroom with diplomas from Trump University.[/quote]
Gleeson: We had been approached by the New York Times to do an exclusive, so I think he was perfectly happy for the exposure. As a nudist, that makes perfect sense.
On the wall, we incorporated a huge Trump yard sign that we had gotten in New Hampshire, a four-by-eight foot sign. We adorned the wall with some simple working tools that were agricultural and then we combined fruit and vegetables and flowers that would rather quickly rot in the heat.
You bought the truck in October. Were you sure, back then, that he would still be around during election time? Did you know that you would be making anti-Trump artwork in July, August?
Mihelic: Absolutely not. We bought the bus thinking we'd be doing it for a month or two. We joked about maybe November, December, maybe January, at the longest. It would be a couple months' project, and he would be out. He was really a long-shot. And the reaction to the bus was really sleepy. Nobody really cared until February. We thought November of last year we'd be done with the project, certainly not November of this year. Let's hope it's not four years from November of this year.
Gleeson: So some people have asked us what will we do with the bus after the election. If he wins, we'd love to find somebody willing to hang the bus upside down in a museum or a huge gallery somewhere. It's emblematic of how much he has succeeded in turning the world upside down. If he loses, we'll try and take it to Hillary's inauguration. I think it will mark a moment when the country was really able to overcome some of its most fear-based and negative impulses.