With the release of “The First Purge,” the latest installment in the 5-year-old dystopian franchise about government-sponsored killing sprees, you might be wondering, “Huh, is President Donald Trump still planning on using that ‘Keep America Great’ slogan that was ripped straight from the horror movies?”
Well, readers, he is.
We waded into the complicated, literally horrifying waters to find out that, yes, Trump’s team has indeed filed applications to trademark the phrase. And no, the “Purge” creators are not surprised. Oh, and there’s a lone copyright applicant who could potentially stand in POTUS’s way.
To understand this saga, you need to go back to January 2017, when The Washington Post reported that Trump had revealed his new campaign slogan for 2020.
“‘Keep America Great,’ exclamation point,” he told the paper, seemingly off the cuff.
According to the Post, Trump called a lawyer in during the interview to trademark and register two different “Keep America Great” slogans ― one with an exclamation point and one without ― on the spot. “Got it,” the lawyer replied, and business seemed to be handled.
The only problem? Apparently unbeknownst to Trump, his lawyer and The Washington Post, the slogan had already appeared in a poignantly titled 2016 horror movie: “The Purge: Election Year.”
What a cluster covfefe.
By using “Keep America Great” in its promotional materials, “Purge: Election Year” ― which, like its franchise predecessors, centers on the one night a year when people can legally murder the hell out of each other as an act of radical catharsis ― seemingly mocked Trump’s “Make America Great Again” phrase, effectively likening Trump’s America to its cinematic nightmare.
Two years later, Trump’s re-election campaign is actually trying to use “Keep America Great” itself, even though the horror movie connection went comically viral soon after the Washington Post interview.
At the time, we threw out some alternative slogans the president could use if KAG didn’t work out, including “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” from 1974’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” or “Be Afraid. Be very afraid.” from 1986’s “The Fly.” As of now, Trump hasn’t responded.
But as recently as last month, Trump told supporters in Wisconsin that he wanted to put “Keep America Great” on green hats.
The president’s insistence on using the phrase doesn’t faze “Purge” producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form.
“It felt kind of natural after we made the movie and then he used that,” Fuller told HuffPost of the slogan. Fuller and Form doubt Trump has seen the movie or any of the other “Purge” films.
“The First Purge” hit theaters on July 4 and continued to make obvious jabs at the president by involving an unmistakable parody of a MAGA hat in its promotional material.
“That was Universal,” Form said of the decision to include the hat. “It was one of those [instances] where you get the email and take a look at the teaser poster, and you open it up and say please put it in the theaters now, like, let’s go.”
The fact that the slogan “Keep America Great” appeared in a movie trailer doesn’t constitute a legal obstacle for the Trump campaign. Kieran G. Doyle, a partner at Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C. who specializes in trademarks and copyright, told HuffPost that the film franchise’s use of the phrase doesn’t give it trademark rights.
In fact, by all indications, Trump’s team did file Intent to Use forms for the horror flick’s phrase a year ago with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Donald J. Trump for President Inc., the president’s official presidential campaign committee, submitted applications for “Keep America Great,” with and without exclamation points, on Jan. 18, 2017 ― two days before Trump was even inaugurated with those “record-breaking” crowds.
Donald J. Trump for President Inc. is the same organization that trademarked and helped implement Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. All applications were filed by the same Jones Day attorney, Meredith M. Wilkes. Wilkes did not reply to HuffPost’s multiple requests for comment.
“It felt kind of natural after we made the movie and then [Trump] used that.”
Some skeptics might think that the Trump campaign team filed the trademarks to cover its bases and doesn’t actually plan on implementing a horror movie phrase. But Doyle told us that if anyone files a mark, you should “certainly assume” they intend to use it.
“Whoever filed them has to state under oath they have bona fide intent to use these marks for the goods listed in the applications,” Doyle said.
However, the Donald J. Trump for President Inc. applications are currently listed as suspended on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
After digging around, HuffPost learned that another application for the slightly different phrase “Keep Our America Great,” filed on Jan. 5, 2017 (13 days before Trump’s own application) ― for use on hats ― has priority over the Trump filings.
And it could have thwarted Trump’s ability to use the phrase on hats of his own.
“Let’s suppose [that application] gets a Notice of Allowance and the Applicant keeps filing extensions of time to file a Statement of Use. [The filer] could extend his deadline to show use until beyond the next election, and Trump could be blocked from registering ‘Keep America Great’ for hats,” Doyle said.
Of course, this other applicant would ultimately have to make use of the mark in order to stop others (Trump) from using it.
But in a phone conversation last month, the person behind the “Keep Our America Great” trademark application, Patrick Goux, said he had no intention of posing as a roadblock to Trump’s team.
“I filed it so no liberal asshole could file it, and I was gonna donate it to the Trump campaign for a dollar and a handshake,” he said.
In fact, Goux said he had “inside information” that Democrats were going to try to trademark the phrase before Trump, and that’s why he “snatched it up.” He also said he was aware of “The Purge” using “Keep America Great,” and said that’s why his phrase adds the word “Our.”
Was he deterred because the slogan was in a horror movie?
“Nope. Not at all.”
Since the only application blocking the Trump team doesn’t actually oppose the president, and because use is what ultimately determines trademarks in the United States, it seems inevitable that Trump’s team will be free to use a horror flick slogan for its 2020 campaign.
According to Doyle, Goux’s willingness to help Trump could “pave the way for Trump’s registration and use of the mark.”
“Since Mr. Goux seems interested in aiding Trump, it appears that Trump will end up with both the right to put that phrase on hats and the right to register that phrase for hats,” Doyle told HuffPost.
But if the president does change his mind, “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” is still available.