10 Eerily Prescient Moments in Cartoonist Peter Kuper’s “The Wall,” a 1990 Short Story in Heavy Metal Starring Donald J. Trump
1. “The Wall”
In 1990, Heavy Metal published a 12-page story by cartoonist Peter Kuper, a New York City-based artist known for inserting his political observations into his work. Given his politics, it’s not surprising to see him create this imaginary tale about the struggle between the haves and have-nots in his hometown. What is surprising is how eerily accurate the story is in predicting Donald Trump’s future career and presidential campaign. The most obvious example of this is the presence of the wall itself. In Kuper’s story, the wall is a literal wall built to help the wealthy folks from having their city “ruined” by the sight of poor people. The wall in the story exists as an obvious way to separate “them” and “us,” much the same way Trump is using the promise of a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border to separate Americans from the rapists and murderers — “and some good people, I assume” — living in Mexico.
2. “Still, decent people had to put up with all kinds of harassment and discomfort.”
In the story, the wealthier citizens of New York are described as “decent people” who suffer “all kinds of harassment and discomfort,” mainly in the form of being forced to see “disgusting” people begging for change. The story then shows Trump and fellow New York real-estate magnate Fred Helmsley (and husband of Leona “Queen of Mean” Helmsley) working together on a plan — the aforementioned wall — to create “a haven for beautiful people.” Quite the coincidence: while real-life Trump never built walls down the middle of Manhattan, in 1991 he wrote to the New York State Assembly about the subject of disabled veterans exercising their legal right to sell wares on New York’s streets: “While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its taxpaying citizens and businesses? Do we allow Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?” He was at it again in 2004, asking Mayor Michael Bloomberg to push street vendors off Fifth Avenue and away from Trump Tower: “The image of New York City will suffer… I hope you can stop this very deplorable situation before it is too late.” Though he wasn’t able to get them banned outright, Trump and his wealthy backers won some concessions, like getting the vendors moved out of sight of Trump Tower.
3. “But in time it became clear that half an island would not be big enough to support two titans.”
Depicting Trump as an egomaniac who slaps his name on everything he owns is nothing new; even back in the 1980s, when he first made a name for himself as a rich guy who enjoyed the spotlight, he plastered his name across buildings, books, board games, airlines, you name it. But what the story accurately predicts is a growing feud in the late 1990s and 2000s between Trump and the Helmsleys. Following Harry’s death in 1997, Leona fought Trump’s four-year attempt for control of the Empire State Building, providing fodder for the city tabloids as the two of them traded insults (“She’s a horrible, horrible human being”)(“I hate Donald Trump”). When Leona died in 2007, Trump — as only he could — backhand-complimented her by saying she “added something to New York, in a very perverse way.”
4. “Helmsley will pay!”
After Helmsley’s forces attack Trump and his allies, Trump “narrowly escapes with his life and a bit of pocket change” and hides in the run-down West Side. He begins his comeback by waging a propaganda campaign, writing graffiti messages all over the city with simple messages like “Helmsley will pay!” In real life, Trump turned to Fox News — cable television’s equivalent of a graffiti-strewn back alley — to offer his opinions on everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories (“Thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down”) to Obama’s birth certificate (“Maybe it says he is a Muslim, I don’t know”). And when he wasn’t getting free advertising from the news shows, he used social media — Twitter in particular — to broadcast his rants about anyone and anything he didn’t like. In both cases, the net result was the same: long before he started his campaign, Trump’s message was already out there.
5. “He quickly organized and formed alliances.”
In Kuper’s story, Trump wastes no time lining up support from celebrities like heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (who only appears in this panel). In 2016, the real-life Trump — a reality-show veteran who’s clearly aware of the value of celebrity in the political arena — formed a few alliances of his own. Aside from gathering support from high-profile political figures like Sarah Palin and Chris Christie, Trump has so far received endorsements from a number of celebrities, including Gary Busey, Lou Ferrigno, Wayne Newton, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Jon Voight. Not big names, to be sure, but big enough to guarantee an article in someone’s Facebook newsfeed every time they spoke up, keeping Trump’s name out there where the public could see it. (As for Tyson himself, he announced early in 2016 he was supporting Trump for president: “We’re the same guy. A thrust for power, a drive for power. Whatever field we’re in, we need power in that field. That’s just who we are.”)
6. “Have a hat.”
In Kuper’s story, Trump reinforces the idea that he’s on the side of the common folks by wearing a hat and handing out hats that look just like it (no word on whether they were stitched together in offshore factories). Because who could be against a hat? Everyone has a head, and hats can be darn useful for covering your head when you need a good head cover. It proves to be a very effective tactic, as it gives his followers a way to show they belong to something bigger than themselves, and also a way of recognizing each other as part of a movement.
7. “An unstoppable juggernaut!”
In time, the Trump in the story has amassed a sizable group of followers who look alike, dress alike, respond on cue to Trump’s prompts and even raise their arms in solidarity when he demands their loyalty to the cause. Kind of like this image, from a rally at which Trump asked supporters to pledge their support for his campaign:
8. “Meanwhile, Helmsley had grown complacent with his success…”
Finally, Trump’s followers strike. While Helmsley is distracted by the porn classic Hannah Does Her Sisters (hey, it’s Heavy Metal, you were expecting the Muppet Babies?), masked insurgents blow up a power station and plunge the entire city into darkness. Caught with his pants down (literally and figuratively), Helmsley is overpowered and his beloved East Side sees massive looting until the dawn’s early light. It’s easy to see a parallel between this and events in the real world, specifically the GOP establishment caught with its own pants down (thankfully just figuratively this time) by Trump’s meteoric rise in popularity among disenchanted voters and being forced to accept his nomination as their candidate.
9. “The looting and pillaging lasted through dawn, but miraculously none of Trump’s properties were touched!”
In Kuper’s story, Trump’s forces breach the wall and pour into the other side of the city, destroying the property of the wealthy Manhattanites as they move through the streets — but “miraculously” none of Trump’s properties suffered any damage. If we look at the looting as a metaphor for the anger that many working-class Americans feel against the country’s financial elites, it makes sense that Trump’s own properties would get a pass from the angry hordes under his command. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump supporters have made it clear they’re not interested in unflattering stories about Trump’s business dealings: the multiple bankruptcies, the lawsuits over properties never built, the fraud charges against his Trump University. Nor are they eager to see Trump as one of the “bad” billionaires who close down factories and move American jobs overseas (even though he totally is). They’re listening to his rhetoric about tearing up deals and sticking it to the rich guys who stuck it to them first, but Trump and his own business holdings are somehow off-limits.
10. “And Donald Trump crossed over the line a hero!”
At the end of the story, a triumphant Trump — who only returns to his half of the city after victory has been secured by his troops (no doubt delayed by a painful bone spur) — promises the people “a monument so that we will never forget our great struggle.” The ending’s twist is that the “New People’s Monument” turns out to be a wall built on the exact same spot as the old wall, performing the exact same function. Only this time it’s dedicated to “all the little people who helped Trump realize his dream.” So, you know… better.
In the real-life world of 2016…. well, who knows what Trump might do if he gets himself elected? Would he follow through on all his outrageous promises and usher in a new era of jobs and more jobs, or would his rise to power — as this story suggests — result in a massive case of “meet the new boss same as the old boss,” with his loyal supporters no better off than they were before? Given how well this story, a parable about the class wars of the late 1980s, predicted everything else about Trump’s rise to power… well, we’ll see.