The Gold Trump Sneakers Are About More Than Shoes

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Of all the merch hawked by the former president and current presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and related entities over the past few months — the gold (chocolate) bars, the wines, the superhero NFTs — is any of it more Trumpian than the $399 Never Surrender sneakers unveiled over the weekend at Sneaker Con in Philadelphia? They are like a road map to Mr. Trump’s value system and electoral strategy in sartorial form.

Gilded hightops as shiny as the chandeliers at Mar-a-Lago, they have an American flag wrapping the ankle like the forest of flags that spring up behind Mr. Trump whenever he takes a stage. They have red soles made to match his trademark red ties (and the flag) and perhaps as a sly nod to Christian Louboutins and the semiology of luxury footwear. Also, there’s a large embossed “T” on the side and on the tongue.

While they are “bold, gold and tough, just like President Trump,” according to the Trump sneakers website, allowing potential owners to “be a part of history,” they boast zero technical performance attributes. While they have a shape similar to Nike Air Force 1s (get it? Air Force One!), they are unabashed imitations of the original.

It’s tempting to dismiss the offering as all flash and marketing with little substance. That’s what Michael Tyler, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, did, saying, “Donald Trump showing up to hawk bootleg Off-Whites is the closest he’ll get to any Air Force Ones ever again for the rest of his life.”

Or to think of them as Mr. Trump’s answer to the Biden campaign’s TikTok presence: an effort to associate himself with the cool embedded in the whole idea of sneaker culture, not to mention the energy and athleticism implied by the “Just Do It” model. Despite the fact that Mr. Trump himself is almost never seen wearing a sneaker, or doing much exercise.

Yet the merching of the moment is more dangerous than it may initially appear.

There has been a lot of eye-rolling since the sneakers’ debut, and jokes about the fact that, given the millions of dollars in penalties levied on Mr. Trump in his various civil cases, he has to make more money somewhere. And there was a lot of focus on the boos that met his appearance at Sneaker Con. (To be fair, the sneakerhead community is not the market for the kicks since there’s nothing original about them; it’s the MAGA market.)

It’s easy to get distracted by the sheer absurdity of it all — a former president, selling sneakers!

There are so many ways Mr. Trump has challenged the norms of the presidential system that such merch can seem the least of the matter. What is selling NFTs with pieces of a mug shot suit compared with the indictment that necessitated the mug shot? What is offering $99 Victory47 cologne in a gold bottle with a gold Trump head as a stopper (another product available on the sneaker website) compared with offering to throw NATO allies to Russia like little pieces of red meat? Besides, realistically, there’s no way the sneakers will provide much of a financial boost to Trump World.

The sneakers are being created by a company known as 45Footwear LLC and are not officially “designed, manufactured, distributed or sold by Donald J. Trump, the Trump Organization or any of their respective affiliates or principals,” according to a disclaimer on the sneaker website. That company licenses the Trump name and image from one called CIC Ventures LLC, which happens to have the same address as the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. The Trump sneaker website looks a lot like the Trump NFT website, and as with that arrangement, Mr. Trump most likely receives a licensing fee. He did present the sneakers at Sneaker Con himself.

Despite the fact that, as of Sunday, the website claimed that the 1,000 pairs of numbered Never Surrender sneakers had sold out, leaving the somewhat less exciting T-Red cherry knit sneaks and Potus 45 white knit sneaks available at $199 each, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance in which the shoes provide any meaningful source of income.

What they offer is something else.

Like Mr. Trump’s tendency to turn every courtroom appearance into a form of entertainment that can be used as a campaign op, his effort to commoditize his legal jeopardy is a long-term strategic play. In reducing his indictments to a slogan on a consumer good, he is reducing their gravity.

It’s a form of insidious trivialization, the sort of tactic that plays perfectly in the landscape of late-stage capitalism in which everything is a product for sale. Oh, those old federal charges? They’re not serious; they’re a style choice. He’s transforming indictments into accessories, a language everyone speaks. The more product he sells, the more he makes a mockery of his situation. That’s where the real profit lies.

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