A few weeks ago, in Las Vegas, the T.RUMP Bus — a former Donald Trump campaign bus transformed into a traveling anti-Trump art project — got egged in a Walmart parking lot. Later, in Denver, a man spray-painted an inverted pentagram on its side. In Los Angeles, two cars tried to run the bus off the road. One driver followed it, swerving and honking and screaming “Fuck Trump,” until the bus pulled into a police station.
These attacks on the T.RUMP Bus, which came from confused anti-Trumpers mistaking it for the enemy, have added another beautiful layer of irony to this piece of political performance art. “We have discovered that no one reads anymore,” Mary Mihelic, of leftist art collective t.Rutt, tells Hyperallergic. “They just see an icon or a brand like Trump and assume it’s his bus.”
The collective purchased the former Trump campaign bus on Craigslist late last year. Since February, the artists have been driving the transformed bus to rallies across the country, protesting the presumptive Republican nominee’s divisive rhetoric. But the vehicle’s political message is cryptic: One side reads “T.RUMP: Make Fruit Punch Great Again”; another side reads “T.RUTT: #WomenTrumpTrump.” At first glance, it still looks like a Trump campaign bus.
“Many people ask us why it’s not more obviously an anti-Trump bus,” Mihelic says. “But that would defeat the purpose. The bus enables us to engage with Trump supporters all over the country in a humorous and fun way. It invites them to come speak with us. We would not engage with any of these people if the bus just said ‘We Hate Trump.’ Then we would only be talking to ourselves.”
In the earlier, slightly less insane days of the 2016 presidential campaign, “we weren’t worried,” Mihelic says. But after a series of rabid reactions, the artists no longer felt safe leaving the bus parked at night. “In the past few months things have gotten much more heated around Trump, and the bus is something of a target. We get in trouble with the anti-Trump crowd that doesn’t take a second look or bother to read it at all because they just hate Trump so much.” It makes for an intriguing social experiment: How often does a political artist experience the naked rage of strangers who unknowingly agree with their political views? “Of course, if we get the chance to explain it to them, then it’s a big lovefest.”
The artists had to leave the bus unattended in Los Angeles for a week and fly back to their regular lives. To deter vandals, t.Rutt decided to camouflage the bus and “hide it in plain sight.” “We realized that all we needed to do was hide Trump’s name somehow and no one would give the bus a second look,” Mihelic said. In keeping with their original absurdist “Make Fruit Punch Great Again” slogan, they made banners featuring fictitious fruit punch ads. “We just couldn’t resist naming the fruit punch after Trump’s fallen GOP competitors,” Mihelic says. Each side of the bus features a different banner: There’s “Jeb’s Low Low Low Energy Fruit Punch”; “Ben’zzz Sleepytime Fruit Punch”; and “Ted’s Extra-Christian Cranberry Fruit Punch.”
“We know the banners work, because in Vegas, the bus was parked alongside a main road and about every two minutes we heard a ‘Fuck Trump,’” Mihelic says. “Once we put the banners up, we heard silence. Nothing. No one swore at us. Nobody cared about the bus or gave it a second look. It was so simple.” The camouflaged bus will remain in Los Angeles until the artists return in a week. They plan to drive down the California coast, sans camouflage, then back to the Republican and Democratic Conventions. By night, they’ll drape the bus with the camouflaging banners for protection.
The artists are also capitalizing on strangers’ rage with a new “Swear Jar”: “Every time someone swears at us or gives us the finger, we throw a coin in it,” Mihelic says. “When it’s full, we are going to donate the money to the Hillary campaign.”
To help pay for gas, t.Rutt is selling a short eBook of photographs and anecdotes from the first half of their trip across the US. Titled From the Finger to the Fist Pump, on the Road with Trump’s Campaign Bus, it’s available on Amazon and iBooks.