Trump Defeats West

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

It has been said that “American Gothic” is the most parodied image in modern culture. That may be so.

But the most iconic image in American campaign history is arguably “Dewey Defeats Truman,” a reference to the botched Chicago Daily Tribune headline declaring Truman’s loss in the 1948 presidential election:

AP / Byron Rollins

Truman won, prompting embarrassment among the many journalists who predicted otherwise. The Washington Post put up an enormous banner across the front of its building that said, “Mr. President, we are ready to eat crow whenever you are ready to serve it.”(Slate, on its Whistlestop podcast, has a riveting recap of this election explaining why Truman’s victory still affects American campaigning.)

So that’s the historical context for next week’s New Yorker cover, which teases a Kanye victory over Trump. The illustration is a send-up of the musician’s announcement that he plans to run for president in 2020. It’s also a way of lampooning the spectacle of modern presidential campaign and a gentle reminder to naysayers that, hey, you never know. (Remember that exchange between time-traveling Marty McFly and 1955-era Doc Brown from Back to the Future: “Who's president of the United States in 1989?” “Ronald Reagan.” “Ronald Reagan! The actor?! Ha.”)

The magazine cover is also the latest in a long tradition of parodying one of campaign history’s most famous images. “Dewey Defeats Truman” has stayed imprinted in the collective consciousness for nearly 70 years. You can find it peppered throughout other campaigns, used to mock other major journalistic errors, and in wider pop culture—on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and all over the Internet. (Here’s Luke Skywalker declaring, “Emperor Defeats Luke.”)

The image has lasting power because it reinforces some of people’s favorite narratives all in one photograph: that know-it-alls can be wrong, that underdogs can win—really, that anything can happen.