Surrealism, an art style that flouted logic and created a new reality, was invented in Europe after World War I to attack the establishment that made war. Trump’s attacks on the U.S. establishment, faulting it for ruining the country, is a ringer for Surrealist thinking, even down to how both view themselves. Unlike the “schools of painting” that art history used to classify varying painting styles, Surrealism called what it did a “movement” and so does Trump, as in this quote cited by Fox Business in March: "If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement."

The “Persistence of Memory” persists

Trump seems so much like the painters of dreams that you might call him a 21st century Salvador Dali. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her sonnet, “How do I love thee,” let me count the ways that the Donald is a latter-day Salvador.


  1. The Republican’s presumptive nominee pledges to check the religion of legal immigrants at our door, which is not only a clear break from American values, but it’s also as irrational as Dali’s picture-making. The painter said it himself: “My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize images of concrete irrationality.”
  2. The First Manifesto of Surrealism talked up freedom of the individual, calling him “a god unto himself.” French theoretician Amadee Ozenfant tagged that credo Cult of Self, explaining that these artists of fantasy painted more for themselves than for society. Dali seemed to exemplify this cult of self when he said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.” In a similar way, Trump is also given to selfsame narcissistic bluster as seen in this remark from his book The Art of the Deal: "The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies."

“Rebel without a Cause”

Stephen Eric Bronner, professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, has written that Surrealists not only prized individualism, but also rebellion in order to change the world under a charter that said, “Surrealism asserts our absolute non-conformism.” Trump’s foundational break with the past seems but a variation on that old art movement’s theme.

An exhibit title for a current show of Surrealist works at the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco conjures up Trump some more. The title, “Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table,” was taken from French writer Comte de Lautéamont’s novel “Les Chants de Maldoror,” which describes a young boy as “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.” The Surrealists saw that description as their own, which is the linking of two realities with nothing at all to link them.


Trump’s effort to tie terrorism to all the Muslims in the world is tantamount to Surrealists linking dissimilarities, not to mention these often quoted words from Dali: “I have this Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”