In the latter half of the 18th century, as Romanticism in Europe was beginning to grow, a fascination with the sublime began. This term, addressed the deeply powerful emotions that were evoked by sensations of pain and/or fear. As 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke comments: ‘In reality, these sensations are unpleasant, but when experienced from a “safe distance” are thrilling; or sublime.’ One prominent painting that portrays the horrors of the sublime is Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781); a scene of a girl asleep in bed having a bad dream. This bad dream is represented by mara (“a monstrous creature believed to cause nightmares”) seated on her stomach. This painting became popular as it shocked viewers across Europe, as they could not look away.
Evidence suggests that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, “Make America Great Again,” evoked a sublime response in Americans as they/we could not look away. Studies reveal that Trump received nearly $2 billion in free media, more than double any other candidate. Trump’s MAGA hat symbolized unimaginable horrors that enthralled the public. The difference however is that while Fuseli’s painting remained an image on the wall, Donald Trump’s campaign led him to become the President of the United States. Eliminating the sublime’s thrill of a “safe distance.”
In 2020 history has repeated itself as President Trump has once again used hatred and violence to promote his campaign, tarnishing the values of America and jeopardizing liberty as we know it.