The exhibitions started two years ago, in February of 2021, shortly after the president’s inauguration for a second term.
A few weeks prior to the swearing-in, news reports had noted that a portion of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets—the area directly in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan—had been closed to traffic, and that some form of construction, obscured by opaque tenting and cordoned by barricades and security personnel, had commenced directly on the paved portion of the roadway. Given the location and its obvious connections to the just-reelected president, most people assumed it had something to do with a generalized “beefing up” of security in the area. Not until the day after the inauguration, when the tenting was removed, was the newly constructed gallery revealed to the public.
Ornate in a distinctly Trumpian fashion, using mostly man-made substances cultured and treated to resemble more opulent materials, the structure featured, on the north end, a covered stage that looked south, and which included, at its rear, ten rows of stadium seating, likewise facing south, with each row containing 20 seats—so that 200 people could be seated behind whomever was performing or speaking. From the bottom of the stage, the entire paved portion of Fifth Avenue running southward to 56th Street had been painted a bright, metallic gold, ending at yet another covered stage, facing northward, though this southern stage was backed not by stadium seating, but by a steel wall polished to a platinum-like sheen and covered in some form of bronze-colored, tufted, weather resistant fabric. The concrete sidewalks between the two stages had been fancifully painted to effect the look of Travertine, and on each side of Fifth Avenue, all the various storefront awnings had been removed and replaced with street-long, gold-toned canopies, each shading its own walkway from 57th to 56th Streets.
It was gaudy, to be sure, and to mid-towners in Manhattan—already long-plagued by an ever-growing torrent of crowds and traffic—it seemed initially not merely a dastardly usurpation of precious passageways, but yet another inane vanity project constructed to achieve the unachievable goal of sating the president’s famously insatiable appetite for monuments to himself.
In retrospect, we should not have been surprised by the use to which the president’s gallery had been put. Appalled? Aghast? Horrified? Terrified? Yes, to all of those—but not surprised. By the time of his reelection, the president had, in some measure or fashion, followed through on virtually all of his mean-spirited impulses, aided and abetted by the media’s slavish amplification of his every word and deed (no matter how grotesque), and by the inaction or outright approval of the courts, the congress, and civil servants of various stripe and degree—and so, no, despite the abject heinousness of the gallery’s purpose, we should not have been surprised. He’d telegraphed this punch way back in January of 2016, during his first campaign. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s, like, incredible,” he insisted back then, while campaigning in Iowa. By February of 2021, feeling secure and emboldened after his second campaign victory—accompanied by the GOP’s shocking re-taking of the House and an increase in the number of Senate Republicans to 63 (thank you, Vlad)—he’d simply decided this was yet another bombastic boast he would turn into reality, just to prove that he could.
And so, on that cold February morning two years ago, just two weeks after the inauguration in 2021, and as the still-warm body of a 46-year-old Honduran asylum seeker was carried off the south stage, the president basked and reveled. With 200 invitation-only supporters cheering rapturously in the stadium seats behind him, and another 800 whooping joyfully from the sidewalks under the gold canopies, his gleaming new Fifth Avenue Presidential Shooting Gallery now stood as both monument and proof that he could, indeed—with impunity and no loss of support—do what he’d actually just done.
There was outrage, of course. Outrage and outcry and fury and protest—just as always with this president. And just as always, it mattered not. The shootings have continued, monthly, but with each new episode, the numbing effect deepens and the protests shrink, to the point that now, just two days before the 24th “exhibition,” protest organizers have cancelled a previously scheduled counter-rally, citing lack of public interest. Though, to be fair, it’s not that the citizenry has become completely zombified—it’s just that the Kim and Kanye divorce trial starts tomorrow, and the public does have its unifying priorities.