Democracy isn’t really doing its job right now. The year is 1933 – sorry, 2017 – and now more than ever we’re scrambling around for politicians worthy of our vote. In the age of fake news, rising inequality and Buzzfeed, the cracks in democracy have widened just enough to let fake candidates into the race. In Uruguay, artist Alfredo Ghierra launched a convincing campaign to take over as Montevideo’s mayor, while in the US Donald Trump plotted to overthrow the establishment and sit on a throne of his own lies. Who needs a politician as president, anyway?
The people’s man
In 2015, Alfredo Ghierra was on a mission. His vision, born out of a lack of political discourse surrounding elections in his home country of Uruguay, was to launch a political campaign to show just how convincing a fake candidate can be.
Ghierra’s campaign for mayor of Montevideo highlighted the tough topics that weren’t being raised by Uruguay’s politicians. He wanted to draw attention to environmental issues, multimodal transport, industrial design – pretty vital things that were missing from the political agenda.
What it boiled down to was that Ghierra sought not only to modify the city of Montevideo itself, but the way in which its citizens saw it. Much of his artistic work revolves around the tension between urban reality and the dream. In his campaign, this was translated into depicting exactly how ripped off people felt by the fact their politicians did nothing.
His election video was a subtle masterpiece. Without words, Ghierra highlights Montevideo’s crumbling infrastructure, intimidates with a single glance, paints himself as a man of the people. The thing is, Ghierra is a man of the people. His whole campaign was a satirical poke at the same old pool of politicians, challenging the status quo, asking people to forego the politicos and pick an artist to reimagine their city instead. When it came to the needs of the people, perhaps he wasn’t such a phoney after all.
Works of art
What do Trump and Ghierra have in common? They wanted to show the world how far a fake campaign could go. These petitions could both be called works of art, for very different reasons.
Ghierra used the medium of a political campaign to call out the establishment on their non-action. He pressured them to take his claims seriously and showed the people that they had the power to choose their own leaders.
On the surface, the billionaire Donald Trump’s campaign was remarkably similar. On the trail, Trump brought up the awkward things other politicians shied away from and slammed ‘establishment’ politics, albeit in the manner of a child hurling insults across the playground. In so many ways, Trump is the ultimate entertainer. His ballsy stage presence, pushy questions and low-blow witticisms certainly won him plenty of laughs. His outrageous campaign was funny, provocative and – most important of all – popular.
What started out as an ego-boosting performance piece by a former reality TV star spiralled out of even his control. He morphed into a caricature of himself. On social media, hordes of left wingers were quick to call Trump’s campaign out as an elaborate hoax – “he’s just trolling us!” they gleefully cried. A troll with 62 million voters at his back, as it turned out. His performance was so persuasive, it appears as though he even convinced himself.
Ghierra may not have secured the mayorship, but his thoroughly tongue-in-cheek campaign opened people’s eyes to the issues their politicians are missing. He built a platform for artists to speak out on the issues that affect city living. Alfredo provides hope for the future of humanity.
Trump’s presidency is a different story. On a quest to make America great again, he promised the working man that he had plans to control foreign worker admissions, make use of the country’s gas reserves and invest in a serious missile defence system. In just under a week, he’s censored federal agencies, all but banned abortion and rolled back the affordable care act. Tell us again what the billionaire knows of the working man’s plight? Now, that would be news.
The irony of Trump’s crusade was that so many people believed it to be a joke that the opposition didn’t take it seriously. Look where that got them. Now, with terms like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ being thrown around, you have to wonder how far the pretence can extend.
Like many things, fake candidates can be used for good and evil. Alfredo Ghierra’s campaign now extends as far as Maldonado and Fray Bentos, where it’s loudly tackling urban issues with the backing of local artists. Donald Trump – ‘The Angry Cheeto’ – is now the President of the United States of America. When the farce goes so far in the wrong direction, you have to wonder if, really, the joke’s on you.