The election on Nov. 8, 2016, served as a wake-up call to those in my profession. All through the campaign, we illusionists had continued to dazzle people with feats of magic and mystery, assuming that a man who openly mocked so many cherished American values would never become president. But he did. And we quickly realized that if our stage shows were to remain relevant in the age of Donald Trump, we would all have to rethink our approach to the craft.
Right away there was the issue of accountability. In the aftermath of Trump’s surprise victory, we realized the American people deserved better from their magicians. It didn’t matter if you were working birthday parties or headlining the MGM Grand. You had to take a real honest look at what you did and accept that whether you were making a playing card disappear, pushing a cigarette through a quarter, or levitating over the Grand Canyon, your actions would be judged in the context of an entirely new political climate.
With Trump peddling fear, xenophobia, and outright lies, we could no longer remain silent: We had an obligation, both as illusionists and Americans, not to allow such hateful behavior to become normalized.
I began with my own act. It would no longer be enough to just climb into a box that appeared to shrink my body down to a sixth of its normal size, nor could I simply converse with an animatronic space alien: I would need to speak truth to power. At any time the president might begin pushing the narrative that our tricks were “fake” and unfairly biased against him. In such an event, I, as a professional stage magician, would have no choice but to fight back.
I’ve no doubt the public’s perception of illusionists has changed since the election. Some people probably even think it’s easier to do magic these days with all the “crazy Trump stuff” going on. But that’s really not the case. If anything, our jobs are now more difficult. With the president already providing citizens with an alternative version of reality on a daily basis, my own illusions, like walking through the Great Wall of China or making an audience disappear, no longer have as much impact.
Though much of what we as Americans hold sacred has come under threat this past year, there has been at least one positive development: Many magicians no longer saw their female assistants in half, having come to realize that there are now consequences for such behavior in the workplace.
There may be critics out there who argue that illusionists are largely to blame for America’s extreme polarization, but I strongly disagree. The political winds that propelled Donald Trump into office would have blown through this country regardless of whether I had ridden a flaming pontoon boat over Niagara Falls. And though it may cost me professionally, I have and will continue to use my illusions to speak out on behalf of democracy. If I lose fans because they take offense at my dollar-bill tricks, or my duck in a bucket, or the thing I do where it somehow looks like I dislocate both my wrists, then so be it.
When future generations look back at today’s magicians and ask, “Where were they?” I want to be able to say I took a stand.