Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine what might happened if a midlevel celebrity directed similarly violent imagery toward a different president of the United States. During the 2008 campaign, Ted Nugent suggested in front of a crowd that Barack Obama should “suck on my machine gun”; last month, Nugent was a guest of President Trump’s at the White House, where he posed for a mocking photo in front of a portrait of a former first lady. Last October, the mayor of West York, Pennsylvania, posted a picture of a noose with the caption, “Barry, this rope is for you.” He resigned later that month but was never charged with a crime.
The Griffin image was taken by photographer Tyler Shields, and as she admits in a video accompanying the TMZ post where the picture first appeared, “Tyler and I are not afraid to do images that make noise.” Griffin has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s, and Shields has a long history of creating provocative images, including a 2015 photo depicting a naked black man lynching a hooded Klansman, and one could argue—as some certainly will—that the photograph draws on a long history of political art and images of beheadings, including classical representations of John the Baptist and Judith beheading Holofernes.
But, you know what, let’s not.
If Griffin and Shields had wanted the picture to do more than “make noise,” they could have put it in a gallery along with a suite of like-minded images or released it in concert with some sort of statement of purpose, rather than as a highly touted exclusive—complete with teasing “Shhh, don’t tell anyone” video—on a celebrity gossip site. On Twitter, Griffin clarified, “OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever!” and further added that the image inspired by Trump’s infamous remark about then–Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her wherever,” but it’s still a picture of the president’s severed head designed to look like the money shot in an ISIS assassination video, and even leaving aside the question of art or taste, that seems like a profoundly bad idea.
So yes, liberals who condemned the copious images of President Barack Obama being lynched or of he and his wife and children being depicted as monkeys should condemn this one, too. (Conservatives who kept quiet then might, solely in the name of balance, agree to likewise sit this one out.) If one decided to build from scratch the living embodiment of right-wing caricatures, one could hardly do better than a midlevel stand-up comedian and occasional CNN personality covering herself in fake blood and embracing the imagery of terrorist recruitment videos in order to make the highly sophisticated point that Trump Is Bad.
Neofascist media outlets are already using the image to enhance the specter of a violent and out-of-control left, and right-wing political candidates will be fundraising off it for years. With the tide of scandal steadily lapping at Trump’s doorstep, he is already doing a credible job of—in purely metaphorical terms—tightening his own noose. He doesn’t need Kathy Griffin’s help.