I should note: This is the third edition of this post, updated after 15 months of the Trump presidency. The organisation is largely thematic, though we begin in the pre-election days of Trump and end with some of the most recent images from 2018.
The Trump presidency has set many things in motion, almost all of which have been irredeemably dreadful. But one positive — if you can even call it that — to come out of this mess, has been some amazing magazine covers depicting the 45th American president in his many guises. Here’s a rundown of, in my opinion, the best covers (with some that are not-so-good thrown in for balance).
It seems sensible to start with the November 2017 covers, the ones made in immediate reaction to Trump’s victory, rather than prompted by any of his actions while in office. The most iconic of these was probably from German magazine Der Spiegel, which depicted a Trumpian asteroid, complete with flaming hairpiece, on a collision course with Earth. This cover is by Edel Rodriguez, a Cuban artist who features prominently on this list. Ingeniously, the Der Spiegel editorial team went for the tagline ‘DAS ENDE DER WELT’, which makes sense in English even if, like me, you have no knowledge of German. Perhaps the seeming objectivity of continental Europe left them better equipped to illustrate the earthquake that was happening in the United States.
The U.K.’s two weekly, current affair magazines went for differing perspectives on the Trump victory. The New Statesman’s approach was a not-wholly-convincing Photoshop of Trump as a nuclear explosion — though I get the thinking: The hair is pretty much the same colour as the iconic mushroom cloud — but the merging of the images is too crude for the final product to really sing. And, in a vintage few months for illustration, it feels a bit tacky to cook this up on a computer.
The Spectator, meanwhile, continued to flirt with supporting Trump, but political cartoonist Morten Morland’s design cleverly uses the image of Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler (or Hynkel, for cinema purists) from The Great Dictator spinning the globe. The result is a cover that plays to both camps: It shows Trump in a wash of gold in the Oval Office, but also introduces the idea of a dictatorship at a point in time where few magazines were daring to go there.
The Hollywood Reporter, focused on the glamour and celebrity of Trump, with this cover reflecting a mix of celebrity and political culture in the president’s glasses, ahead of the presidential primaries.
The honour of the most consistently high-quality Trump covers might belong to TIME magazine, particularly for their pre- and post-election diptych of molten Trump visages (both by Edel Rodriguez). As with Der Spiegel, they don’t overcomplicate the visuals, allowing the recognizable Trump hair and pout to do the talking. Back in August, before the election, they went with a meltdown-themed cover:
But if that felt hyperbolic at the time, it gave TIME little room to back down when Trump’s campaign looked in crisis. The “Meltdown” cover has Trump posed in a way that evokes Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream” — except, presumably, Munch’s subject is screaming at someone, rather than screaming in horror — and the drama is so high-strung that it’s a hard cover to build on top of. The “Total meltdown” cover is a very clever way of doing just that. The image is deflated and anti-climactic, the opposite of the nuclear holocaust the New Statesman ran with. It worked brilliantly at the time, capturing the senseless incredulity felt by the media. It is absurd and silly, but reflective of the emotional state that hadn’t yet bloomed into anger. It’s a shame the meltdown wasn’t actually total…
Disbelief over the reality of a Trump presidency means some of the 2015 and early-2016 covers have aged badly. This TIME cover below, for example, presents a Trump presidency as something highly unlikely but relatively serious. It predates a move towards seeing Trump as an aggressive threat to liberal democracy, and, I think, captures a mood that has been lost to time and, in places, condemned.
There was an element of hubris in some of the Trump magazine covers that doesn’t play well in 2017. New York magazine’s “LOSER” cover was punchy at the time, but now looks almost like an advert for the insurgent movement that won Trump the presidency.
Their cover from 2015 actually plays better. It depicts Trump as George Washington, and whilst I don’t think there’s as much irony in the image as it feels upon reflection, it says a lot about Trump’s self-image and the explosive origin story of Trumpism.
The Economist produced a beaming facsimile in January 2017, as Trump’s presidential credentials were confirmed at his inauguration, but the Photoshop work — as I seem to often find myself saying — is sub-par, and the result isn’t nearly as effective as the New York cover.
Trump rendered as a historic nationalist figure wasn’t just used once. The Economist dressed Trump (along with Vladimir Putin and Nigel Farage) up as the three musicians in Archibald Willard’s painting “The Spirit of ‘76” (or more commonly known as the “Yankee Doodle” painting), which depicts three musicians during the American Revolution. It was painted in 1876, when America was engaged in a bloody expansion through Sioux territories. I don’t think this subtext is really presented in the cover (which is oddly a mirror reversal of Willard’s painting, and includes French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen as Delacroix’s Liberty) but the same idea is there: Trump isn’t without antecedents or icons. Trump’s supporters love to see themselves as American revolutionaries, and I’m sure the editors of these magazines would argue that they were mocking — or pointing out the contrast — between Trump and the formation of the United States.
The Economist had been pretty reliably poor with its Trump covers, preferring cliché to originality wherever possible. The “Really?” cover is particularly lazy — not wildly dissimilar, but much less effective, to their “Theresa Maybe” cover. The Uncle Sam painting is really nicely done, so why stick such a dodgy Photoshop on top?
Their “The debasing of American politics”-themed cover was a better idea, but executed so bizarrely that it’s hard to know exactly what they intended. Unless someone squinted very closely at the newsstand, this just appears to be an elephant taking a shit (which I suppose is partly the point, but still).
The elephant was, of course, a reliable symbol for designers everywhere. It’s an easy way to set Trump at odds with the Republican establishment. While, historically, the elephant would’ve been part of the image of any Republican nominee, in these series of covers the iconic symbol is set at odds with Trump. So each of these covers has at least two characters: Trump (represented by his own, iconic image) and the GOP (represented by the elephant). At times this means the covers can feel cluttered, like this classic New Yorker watercolour by Barry Blitt. The New Yorker covers are either really good or really self-conscious, and I think this falls in the latter camp.
I get what they’re going for, but you end up with the GOP cut in two, and Trump standing back observing both halves — a seemingly confused metaphor. Better, I think, is the image of Trump riding (even taming) an unwieldy elephant. This is something that The Economist went for, although their elephant just ends up looking grumpy, which I don’t think really reflected the anger within the Republican establishment.
Better yet was this Spectator cover by Morten Morland, which showed Trump crashing the elephant. Upon reflection, the triumph on Trump’s face, coupled with the mangled body of the Republican elephant, pretty much summed up the election.
After the election, however, Trump’s relationship with his party ceased to be headline news and the elephant metaphor was shelved for another four years. So what should be the visual analogy du jour to replace it? Well, this post-inauguration cover from the New Yorker leads the way by showing a flameless Statue of Liberty, by John W. Tomac. You might expect this from such a quintessentially New York magazine, but it seems like publications around the country, and greater world, were also ready to use Liberty Island’s icon as an image for Trump’s brutality.
The Spectator had already combined this image with Trump’s own profile to create a splittingly angry vision of this new American symbol, also by Morten Morland. It’s also suitably rude and defiant, summing up Trump supporters’ indifference to their leader’s shortcomings.
The New Statesman went for a post-inauguration cover that shows Libertas crowned with barbed wire, by André Carrilho). The liberal media has been making a lot of associations between Trump and Nazi Germany, and this is a much more effective visual play on that idea than most. The mangled barbed wire — rather than the straight lines that we strongly associate with the Holocaust — is also illustrative of the so-called “American Carnage,” the badly organised madness of the first weeks of the Trump administration.
It’s also a rare example of the Statue of Liberty being used as an ornament, rather than as a personification (although she is weeping blood, which is a bit more on-the-nose). Early on, The Economist went for a sighing, fatigued Libertas, which was actually one of their most effective images from the campaign.
After their Trump/asteroid cover, Der Speigel had set a high bar to attract international attention with a post-inauguration cover. They went with the Statue of Liberty image as well, but audaciously showing Trump holding the decapitated, blood-soaked head of Libertas. Non-American magazines don’t have to worry about Trump supporters, so their newsstand presence can be more savagely critical than that of their American counterparts. We’ve seen the New Statesman draw parallels with the nuclear bombings of WWII and the Holocaust, and the Der Spiegel cover (Edel Rodriguez) even seems to evoke images of the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations. In a way, this metaphor is more fitting, as it tackles Trump in his own rhetorical yard, rather than relying on the sombre weight of history.
The :AMERICA FIRST: slogan Trump’s camp peddled is also key for magazine designers. Trump versus the rest of the world can be portrayed in many striking ways, such as this New Statesman cover that sees Trump licking a lollipop shaped like the globe (André Carrilho). I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be weirdly sexual, but I like the way it depicts Trump not only as a fundamentally aggressive ruler, but also as someone toying with the world and acting like the spoiled brat of the Willy Wonka series, Violet Beauregarde.
The New Yorker has also executed a couple of infantilising covers, both by Barry Blitt. The first sees a childish Trump bombing into a pool filled with Republican stalwarts. This is from way back in the halcyon days of 2015, but remains one of the best visualisations of the Trump phenomenon.
More recently, the New Yorker went with an illustration of Trump, a suited businessman, in a toy car. The play on the unreality and pretence of the Trump regime, coupled with the static grounding of the car, is strong. They released a digital-only version that moves — I presume that the actual magazine cover doesn’t move, but I didn’t double check — which adds literally nothing. Gimmicks aside, this is another strong cover and shows that Trump as a spoilt brat is one of the best ways of drawing him.
Infantilisation has continued into 2018, as this look back over one year of the Trump presidency from The Economist shows. A lot of signifiers of Trump as a disaster in this image: Trump Jr., Putin, Melania, Fire and Fury, The Wall, burgers and nuclear weapons. In the middle of all that is Baby Trump, looking rather smug.
On the other hand, if you’re not going to go with a depiction that infantilises Trump, you could go to the other extreme. The Economist dipped into the Banksy playbook for their “Insurgent in the White House” cover, but it nicely captures the outsider status of the movement. The Molotov cocktail is exactly the right weapon (in terms of visual metaphors) of the Trump world. Sadly it is a bit too Banksy, and, again, The Economist leant heavily on visual cliché, but the basic idea is strong and runs opposed to the more organised, dystopic cover interpretations of the Trump administration. Here, he is the rebel leader who has mysteriously gained power, rather than the ruthless machine that has rolled through the opposition, which, I think, is probably a more accurate representation of what went down.
If you are going to do a tentative Hitler/Mussolini comparison, do it with the panache of this cover from The Atlantic . Like many of the best Trump covers, it doesn’t show the man full-on, but instead from behind, addressing a rally of supporters. It cleverly evokes Hitler — and the presence of the word “autocracy” might be a stimulus there — because the image is something we saw time after time on the campaign trail. And that’s what makes the central premise of the magazine piece more chilling: it works somewhere within the intersection between reality and fantasy, what is and what might be.
Flipping that perspective around, this TIME cover shows Trump as president in a stormy, swirling Oval Office, staring blankly at the portraitist. It’s a clever twist on the “This is fine” meme, going with a “Nothing to See Here” tagline — a nice, tongue-firmly-in-cheek salvo to the media frenzy around Trump (which this rundown is a wee bit complicit in).
The ‘This is fine’ meme isn’t the only one to be referenced on a magazine cover. This, from Bloomberg Business is all the more effective for the fact that you wouldn’t expect it from a more stodgy publication like Bloomberg. It’s sort-of funny — probably funnier if you’re not aware of how creative this meme is in the amateur ranks of Twitter — and manages the two-punch of depicting the ridiculousness of both the Trump pose and the vague futility of meme-based resistance.
And finally, from the heady days of 2016, the magazine cover that most encapsulated the spirit of the Trump victory was this post-election effort from the New Yorker (done by illustrator Bob Staake). The Wall was the metaphor from the election, summing up Trump’s strengths to his supporters and weaknesses to his detractors. This cover, unlike most New Yorker covers, actually finds a balance: You could imagine some Trump supporters hanging this in their homes, because, after all, they want this wall built. It’s a beautiful way of using the magazine format to show the shutting out of the world, both literally and figuratively, and the way it consumes the page (interacting with the text) shows the colonisation of Trump’s influence. This is the most singularly despairing cover of the lot, and the most effectively ambivalent about what America’s future holds.
Getting to the heart of the Trump phenomenon — whether to explain it away or really interrogate the cause of discontent with the political establishment — was another major concern of the media during and in the wake of the Trump election. Here are two covers, the first from Britain’s the Spectator and the second from Rolling Stone, which depict Trump with pitchfork. The pitchfork speaks to many things here: American Gothic, certainly, but also witch hunts, rural life, and angry mobs.
Another pre-election cover which reads interestingly in 2018 is this Barry Blitt New Yorker effort from February 2016. It depicts former American presidents watching Trump’s debate performances on a TV, playing the mass media appeal of Trump against the horror of the men who, in this context, resemble the political establishment, hence the cornicing on the ceiling.
A slight aside, but one of the more extreme visual reactions to the Trump presidency comes from Irish magazine Village. Trump, in profile, with a sniper’s crosshairs trained on his temple. “WHY NOT” the magazine says, and it’s not even a question. This cover caused plenty of controversy, as they no doubt anticipated.
After the inauguration, Trump didn’t then slink back into obscurity. Instead, quite the opposite happened. High-profile stories involving Russia, Syria, North Korea, and — on the home front — his response to white nationalism, kept the cover story conveyer belt rolling. Let’s tackle these, starting with Russia. The most iconic Trump/Russia cover is probably this beautiful, but confusing, offering from TIME. The idea is that it shows the Kremlinisation of the White House, but the choice of Moscow’s prominent Saint Basil’s Cathedral to represent Putin’s closeness to the administration is slightly weird. You can understand why they chose it — it’s a beautiful, iconic building — but it doesn’t quite make sense.
This Peter Brookes cover for The Spectator, manages to nail the Trump/Putin association whilst also dressing Trump in historic garb, which is one of the favourite tricks of artists responding to Trump. It is also a refashioning of a classic work of art — in this case James Gillray’s image of George III and Napoleon carving up the globe — which we see a lot of.
I will confess that I am unlikely to become a Barry Blitt evangelist any time soon, and I don’t really get this Trump/Putin cover. The joke with the Cyrillic script is nice (and shows just how idiosyncratic the New Yorker typeface is), but I’m not sure what element of the two leaders’ relationship is being lampooned here. Perhaps I am just naive about the nuances of lepidopterology.
This offering from The Week (please enlighten me in the comments as to why they’re carrying wilted roses) and the depiction of Trump is oddly svelte, when most artists go for him as a plump, full necked baby. But this also touches upon his militarisation with the conflict in Syria, which has increasingly become an important element of Trump magazine covers.
The Syria strike didn’t seem to captivate magazine designers (or editors) in the same way as his dealings with Russia and, later, North Korea. This, from The Spectator, looked at Trump as commander-in-chief, comparing him to Kaiser Wilhelm II (which is not a visual comparison mainstream enough to really work, I don’t think).
The Week also featured the Trump/Putin relationship in more bromantic fashion, as they share a milkshake like they’re trapped in a Frank O’Hara poem.
Another Barry Blitt offering, following the leak of alleged email contact between Donald Trump Jr. and representatives from Russia, shows the first family exiting Air Force One with Trump playing the stern patriarch. This is quite unusual for a New Yorker cover in that it places Trump in a role adjacent to the criticism, but, then again, Donald Trump Jr. is an even softer, more weak-chinned target than his dad.
TIME also give Don Jr. some cover love, showing him in front of assorted highlights from the leaked email chain. I also wonder whether that “I love it” is deliberately placed to sit on his lip like a Chaplin-esque moustache (something we’ll see, less subtly, later on).
And here, on a MAD magazine cover, their mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, is turned into Jared Kushner to create a surreal family portrait.
A final Blitt cover (for the time being) shows Trump golfing, which — aside from foreign and domestic policy, which covers just about everything — has been one of the big issues of the past six months. This is a new extension of the infantilisation trope: Trump has grown into a manboy president, unwilling or unable to perform the tasks of high office, and instead determined to chillax on the job.
A similar effort is made by Edel Rodriguez for Der Spiegel (after Blitt, he is probably the most prominent artist of the Trump resistance), which shows Trump launching the fiery planet into orbit. Rodriguez’s vectored version of Trump has become so iconic that his work is instantly recognisable, be it in Der Spiegel or TIME.
I like the Blitt golf cover (not least because that would make for a tremendous hole), as well as the Rodriguez one, but more attention seems to have been given to this Newsweek cover. Even though it’s a mucky Photoshop, this works well because the lazy boy has become a symbol of a certain type of Americana and capitalist ennui (I think probably because of its association with Joey from Friends). So there’s a double meaning here, and Trump’s throne is also bedecked with other classics of American consumption, which reinforce the message that he’s not only idle, but also crass.
New York also goes after Trump’s crass capitalism as the new Americana. The first image here shows Trump in the White House, painted in vivid colours, screaming into an iPhone whilst Anderson Cooper plays on the TV, and he clutches a burger in his fist. I include a second New York cover here, from back in 2016, to see the way that pop art-styled covers have progressed in the intervening years. The Trump face as a simple expression of Trumpism is no longer quite enough to convey the drama of the presidency — the January 2018 cover, while more visually complicated, is a much more compelling depiction of Trumpist America.
Here, similarly, TIME show Trump destroying the Washington Monument, through carelessness rather than cunning intent, whilst tweeting away on his iPhone. Technology has become part of the Trump presidency, for no reason other than the sense that Trump is, fundamentally, tacky.
The Trump vs. North Korea story knocked the stuffing out of his prolonged holiday. This Morten Morland cover shows Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un pointing equally tiny hands at each other — a nice way of downplaying the conflict while highlighting the mutual deficiencies of the two leaders.
That image also went for a nuclear explosion, which has become a clear symbol of the danger Trump’s presidency poses to the international stage. The headline “Trump goes nuclear” from the New Statesman also invites an image of annihilation, here presented as a comfy mushroom cloud, in which Trump reclines (lazy boy again…) and tweets.
Similar to the New Statesman’s pre-election mushroom cloud cover, this Economist design shows Trump and Kim forming the meat of the explosion, while TIME goes for a simpler image of the cloud, accompanied by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, appropriated for nuclear disaster.
Another Der Spiegel classic here, combining all our favourite Trump depiction tropes and, again, focusing on the similarities between him and Kim Jong-un. Showing the actual missile is the obvious visual alternative to the mushroom cloud, though I think Cuban artist Edel Rodriguez is the only person to do it in this cycle.
And for a much tackier, slightly nutty, French offering, what do you make of this face-mash from Libération? Slightly horrifying, but once again making the point: Trump and Kim are, in essence, the same type of leader.
This Easter special from the New Statesman shows Trump as Humpty Dumpty, the miserable egg sat on a wall. Sat alongside Putin, Kim, and British PM Theresa May (mid-fall), Trump suits the egg shape much better than Putin or May. The wall could, perhaps, be more explicitly linked to Trump, but the little tantrum gestures are captured well on such a micro-canvas. Why is he so much less of a manspreader than Putin or Kim, though?
As the story moves away from North Korea and towards Syria, there have been few covers dedicated to looking at Trump’s hard military stance in the Middle East. This Spectator cover shows him dressed in military garb, accompanied by French President Emmanuel Macron in distinctive Napoleon gear, facing off against a macho Putin and Bashar Assad in the distance.
The next year may well see more Trump/Macron covers, especially from Europe. This Charlie Hebdo cover shows the similarities being construed between the French and American leaders.
Probably my favourite, the “IMPENDING WAR!” cover (in this case a trade war), is from The Economist, which is both a nice bit of visual craftsmanship, and also an interesting and original way of fitting the Trump iconography onto an inanimate object — in this case a hand grenade.
A brief word here about Trump’s hair, which has becoming increasingly key to cover design. Below, The Economist, transposes the hair straight onto that great symbol of America, the bald eagle, for an instantly recognisable piece of satire.
And here, investigative outlet Mother Jones, forms the distinctive swish of hair from Lady Justice, her sword and dagger going into Trump’s back. The image is somewhat ambiguous: Is this a kamikaze attack from the legal system on the president? Or, as the subtitle says, Trump crafting it in his own image?
The hair is also called upon for this Anthony Russo New Yorker cover on immigration, showing the hairpiece popping up from the bottom of a hole that could be a well, a hole of his own digging, or a golf hole.
Another surge of Trump magazine covers, and probably the most powerful sequence, have come as a result of unrest at home. I’ve been generally critical of The Economist’s visualisations of the Trump phenomenon and here, again, they go for a slightly cheap looking Photoshop. But the cracks on the American flag are a nice way of depicting a national identity that is splintering before the zealot.
The violence in Charlottesville this past August has seen a refocusing of domestic policy covers onto the issue of race. This can be a tricky thing to represent without falling into some of the traps that you’re criticising. This Edel Rodriguez cover from TIME is clever: The American flag curves in the symbolic swoosh that we have come to associate with the Trump hairdo, but beneath the cloak, the boots, haircut, and salute is pure Nazi.
An interesting version of this appeared on the cover of Letras Libres, a literary magazine popular in Mexico. Here the headline forms a signature Hitler moustache under Trump’s nose.
A slight diversion, while we’re on the subject of Spanish magazines, because I had to find a way of including this bizarre offering from Tapas magazine (yes, a food magazine with a Trump cover). Makes me feel slightly queasy.
As any good vegetarian will tell you, it’s important to remember that behind a delicious slice of ham is a real life pig. This New York cover (amongst American magazines they go the most far in antagonising the President) depicts him, very simply, with a pig snout.
A different sort of piggishness is somewhat underrepresented on magazine covers. Depicting Trump in relation to the allegations of sexual misconduct is tricky to do tastefully. Iconically distasteful French magazine Charlie Hebdo has no such qualms about taste, as this cover below demonstrates.
Even when American satirical magazines, such as this MAD cover, are explicitly grouping Trump in with Weinstein and others, they still fall back on tired images, such as this golfing one (yawn), rather than pushing boundaries.
When TIME wanted to do a cover tackling Trump’s problems with Stormy Daniels, they asked Tim O’Brien to reimagine his own, now iconic, cover. This is a simple, very euphemistic, way of addressing the allegations, while also working as a good metaphor for the whole Trump presidency, 15 months in.
Nazism is one of the two main parallels used by designers. The other is the KKK (both heiling and Klan dress were present in Charlottesville). The Economist here seems to have learnt a trick or two from TIME and went with a very effective cover where Trump is using the pointed hat of the KKK as a megaphone. I’m not sure the visual metaphor totally makes sense — it suggests Trump is speaking through the KKK, whereas I think the real story is about his appeasement of them — but it is a striking cover for a magazine that generally fails to captivate on the newsstand.
Der Spiegel was even more explicit, depicting the president shrouded in KKK garb. If there is any ambiguity about the identity of the figure, the caption — ”The true face of Donald Trump”– dispels that. I also include a cover from another German weekly magazine, Stern, showing Trump draped in the American flag, doing a Nazi salute. In Germany, the salute can land you arrested and imprisoned for up to three years, so depicting Trump heiling on the front of a magazine is a big deal. Germany continues to have the most vehemently anti-Trump media.
Here’s another New Yorker cover, this time by David Plunkert, who has a lovely textured style that comes from years of collaging. Here the Klansman’s suit is the sail of a boat powered by Trump’s bluster. Both Trump and the racists are being carried along by this mutually beneficial relationship. For me, this is a more sophisticated, accurate expression of Trump’s interactions with white nationalists, and a beautiful, painful image.
This New Yorker cover from March 2018 shows Trump as the Emperor, naked before the world. I find the mechanics of this metaphor slightly confusing, as the idea of the Emperor’s new clothes is that his subjects are so over-awed that they cannot bring themselves to tell him he is nude. If there’s one thing that these covers have shown, Trump’s fellow Americans do not hold back from calling him out.
In a way TIME has escaped the demands of coming up with new metaphors for the Trump presidency by sticking with their series that started with the Trump face melting and here, for the anniversary of the Trump inauguration, shows a screaming silhouette with a head consumed by flames (or exuding flames, depending on your angle).
And finally this Newsweek cover from March 2018, showing Trump in the Superman pose with a tattered American flag as his cape. After almost three years of these magazine covers, this one sums up the prevailing mood: Trump is still defiant in the face of all the criticisms and failures of his presidency. The American flag should never touch the ground, as it does here, so we see the change in America, the desecration of ideals, wrought by the Trump presidency. (Though, to display the flag stars down is a distress signal, which could’ve been a nice touch). What can you do, the cover asks, when the president is still standing strong?