Bipartisan Boom in Trump Mug Shot Merchandise Demonstrates the Healing Power of Commerce

Haters and lovers of the former president can both express their diametrically opposed views with a Trump mug-shot mug.


With miraculous speed, America's e-commerce merchants have converted Donald Trump's mug shot from iconic historic image to commercial kitsch.

Trump was booked in the Fulton County Jail outside Atlanta, Georgia, on election rigging charges this past Thursday evening. Before the sun had set, the jailhouse image of the scowling former president was being plastered on every form of clothing, accessory, and dish imaginable.

Whether one is in the market for a Trump mug-shot mug or a Trump mug-shot shot glass, there are dozens of options for each available on Etsy, Amazon, and numerous other online stores.

The public release of mug shots is a controversial practice, with critics reasonably arguing the release serves only to rob defendants of their dignity and their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those same arguments apply to President Donald Trump, argued Reason's Billy Binion last week.

Nevertheless, the person cashing in the most on Trump's mug shot appears to be Trump himself. Almost all the featured items in his campaign's merchandise store are mug shot–themed hats, shirts, mugs, and stickers bearing a "never surrender" caption.

Politico reports that as of Saturday, the Trump campaign has raked in $7.1 million off mug-shot merch.

And that's just the official haul. The former president is getting a lot of positive, earned media from the countless other MAGA merchants, influencers, and allies selling mug-shot gear with captions like "Thug Life," "Not Guilty," and "Wanted for President."

There's also been an explosion of more mocking and denigrating Trump mug-shot merch on the other side of the aisle.

The anti-Trump charlatans at the Lincoln Project are selling the former president's arrest photo on shot glasses with a "FAFO" (fuck around, find out) inscription. For a bit more money, one can get a whole set of mug-shot shot glasses featuring Trump's co-defendants in the Georgia case.

The band Green Day is sticking it to the man by selling a new T-shirt featuring Trump's mug shot in the style of their Nimrod album cover. (Who said punk was dead?)

Then there are the countless T-shirts and mug-shot mugs with more critical captions like "Make Mug Shots Great Again," "My Ass Got Arrested," and "Guilty Pleasure" (the latter can be found on custom wine labels).

Many of the people purchasing these items are doing it out of ideological solidarity with Trump or his liberal foes. Many more, it appears, are just having fun with the ridiculousness of it all.

The lack of any clear trademark or copyright protections on the mug shot released by the Fulton County jail is allowing this bipartisan creativity to flourish. Everyone from the former president himself to his fiercest critics can profit off the image without restriction.

More remarkable still is how the trucking and bartering of Trump's mug shot is managing to simultaneously satisfy the mutually exclusive preferences of millions of Americans. Both supporters and detractors can find some swag that will allow them to express exactly how they feel about the divisive former president.

Regardless of whether you want the man himself in the White House, in prison, or neither, everyone can get a healthy slice of consumer surplus from a Trump mug shot mug or shower curtain.

The joy of each purchaser need not come at the expense of anyone else, regardless of their motivations.

The same isn't true of the electoral and judicial processes that Trump is wrapped up in. He'll either win or lose the presidency. He'll either be acquitted or convicted in court.

The desires of Trump critics and supporters can't both be satisfied by a political system that only produces binary outcomes. One side is going to be disappointed.

Markets, and the voluntary, mutually beneficial transactions that make them up, can navigate these intractable divides with ease. The bipartisan boom in Trump merch gives a window into a world where more of people's political passions were devoted to mutually enriching commercial endeavors.

Perhaps we can't force all party politics to play out on Etsy. The more of it that does, the better off we'll be and the less cause for division and rancor we'll have in everyday life.