Donald Trump is a very complicated person

Donald Trump: His staging as an American hero

Final spurt in the race for the 46th presidency: Challenger Joe Biden has the lead in polls. Incumbent Donald Trump is fighting for his re-election. Whoever votes for him pretty much knows why. And vice versa: if you don't choose it, you also know why. "People identify with Trump because he seems authentic," says the Trier media scientist Marion Müller. Trump with the carefully coiffed hair, the tanned face, the red tie: "There are no deviations. That is good for a polarized election campaign."

Donald Trump creates recognizable images of himself

In fact, the country is divided into Trump fans and Trump haters. The rift runs through families, affects friendships and even marriages. Americans are also reacting to the image they make of Donald Trump. Trump wants to direct this gaze - to a picture that he draws of himself, in which he leaves nothing to chance: grim, determined, serious - this is how he looks into the camera on official photos. In a suit, with a stiff posture, thumbs up, sometimes at the lectern, sometimes shaking hands or getting on and off the plane - this is how Trump appears in photos as the most powerful man in the state.

"Donald Trump is a cult"

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Arms maker from Louisiana

    They embarked on a 15,000-mile road trip through the USA to capture pictures like this one: Mathias Braschler and his partner Monika Fischer took 82 such portraits in a popup photo studio that their motorhome could be converted into in 2019. Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity: they were all simply photographed in front of a white canvas.

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Mississippi mother of eight

    The result was the photo book "Divided We Stand". In it they trace the political division in the USA. This is particularly evident on the map: on the one hand there are the "blue" coasts, where a majority supports the Democrats, on the other hand there is the "red" republican center. But what do the faces of those portrayed tell about it? That interested Braschler and Fischer.

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Texas sheriff

    She only met the people she photographed on her trip through the country - quite spontaneously. 15,000 miles correspond to around 24,000 kilometers that the two photographers covered together with their then six-year-old son for the photos. They crossed a total of 40 states - from Montana to Texas, where this picture of a sheriff was taken.

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Cheyenne chief from Montana

    Monika Fischer and Mathias Braschler rebuilt the photo studio belonging to the mobile home for each of their portraits. In this way they were able to create the same lighting conditions for all portrait guests. The man pictured in this photo is a Cheyenne chief, a native tribe of North America.

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Junior Rodeo Queen from Wyoming

    Her road trip not only resulted in fascinating pictures. Monika Fischer and Mathias Braschler also asked those portrayed, like the young rodeo queen here, about their political attitudes. What people had to say about politics, society and their country is also printed in the photo book. Their opinions are as diverse as the people photographed.

  • "Divided We Stand": Portraits from a divided country

    Mason from Georgia

    The Braschler-Fischer family of photographers live alternately in New York and Switzerland. The road trip would have given her a new perspective on this "divided" country, her second home. For example, she is now more aware of why so many Americans voted for Trump. Perhaps the photo volume with the statements it contains will also lead the viewer to this realization.

    Author: Maria John Sánchez


It is the staged side of Donald Trump and it gives him the highest credibility. "His hair or his grin, the rehearsed poses, it all looks like a caricature," says Müller, "with which he managed to make himself a cult figure".

That may be bad for a politician who has to weigh carefully and make difficult decisions. But Trump is not all of that. For his followers he is a completely normal American, a projection screen for wishes and ideas. "The man is cult," says media scientist Müller.

Whether a cult figure or not, what America’s electorate decides on also depends on their worldview: "The world is so complicated that people yearn for simple answers and simple personalities - and they get that delivered in Trump," explains Herbert Fitzek, economic and cultural psychologist at the Berlin Business School. Trump seems authentic, simple, aggressive. "It's not what his advisors recommend, but it comes across well with his fans."

Media scientist Marion Müller

Press photographers can hardly take a picture of him in any other way, private and even some official appointments are taboo for them. There is no picture of the president's golf game, no human insights from the best and strongest US president of all time, whom Trump wants to embody. Even his "court photographer" Shealah Craighead only provides staged photos of the 'Chief' in the White House. Trump poses on them in a familiar manner. 'I am your hero', so his clear, albeit simple message, 'choose me and I'll take care of it!'

Unlike the media darling Barack Obama

Quite different from Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, who also knew how to stage himself carefully. But his pictures not only showed the statesmanlike, official, but also many other sides of Obama - sometimes joking with children, sometimes frolicking with dogs, dancing with his wife Michelle or sitting casually on the desk.

Economic and cultural psychologist Prof. Herbert Fitzek from the Berlin Business School

The message: Obama is a President with human facets, a media darling who you think you know. "It was well received here in Germany," says cultural psychologist Fitzek, "but many in the USA are fed up with this image. They want someone who is simple and straightforward - just like Trump".

Two propaganda photos illustrate this difference, each published by the White House after the successful operation against a terrorist chief: one shows Obama framed by enthusiastic supporters during the action against Osama bin Laden, the other Donald Trump before accessing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Both photos speak the same language: "Look, you cannot escape the long arm of our power." But while the Obama version shows a president at work, Trump sits with an angry look under the president's seal as if under a halo.

US President Trump and his team before accessing terrorist leader al-Baghdadi

The uniformed men at his side look like a pack of vicious shepherds. "That depicts what is," says expert Fitzek. "It signals to the people that someone like in Country in the Midwest, gun in hand, is patrolling his people like sheepdogs. The message is simple and moving, at least for part of the population," said Fitzek.

Trump and the power of images

There are worlds between Obama and Trump, also in the media staging. "Obama was the most photogenic president of all time, Trump the most iconic," says Doug Mills in a nutshell. "He stands out in every picture: his hair, his silhouette, his suits, he is always clearly identifiable, even if only he is is in the background, "says the New York Times photographer, who has already accompanied six US presidents with his camera from 1981 to 2020.

Did everything right in terms of media? Donald Trump wants to remain the 45th President of the USA

"The power of images is everything for Trump. Every day he follows social media. He watches more television than any president before him." Sometimes Trump asks him for prints of pictures that he likes, Mills recently told in an interview with the Berliner Tagesspiegel.

Trump especially demonizes the traditional media and yet he makes use of them. How does that fit together? "Like politicians, the media must keep in touch with their audiences," says cultural psychologist Fitzek. "If Trump threatens to ally himself directly with the people to the exclusion of the media, then they really only have the choice of being the bogeymen or somehow getting involved."

The role of social media for Trump

Supporting the state and traveling a lot: US President Donald Trump is confident of victory

Fox News is undoubtedly one of those involved. "Trump was able to use social media like Twitter for a long time and undisturbed," says media scientist Müller. "Without Twitter there would be no Trump, at least in the first election in 2016. That was central to mobilization and direct contact with the people." Twitter is now providing Trump's fake news with warning notices. Now in the re-election, Twitter plays a subordinate role for him.

Anyone who sheds light on Trump's communication style cannot deny his success. "It would be too easy to label Trump as an idiot whom it has washed to the top, and we just have to wait until the disaster is over," warns Herbert Fitzek. "In many societies - Russia, Turkey, Poland or Hungary - there is a tendency towards simpler minds that send out simple messages." Populism is trendy worldwide, including in Germany. As his media advisor, she would have to advise him for better or worse, says Trier media professor Müller: "Keep it up!"