By Jeff Sharlet
Yusif Jones, standing in front of a long row of porta-potties, slides his plastic Trump mask over his face. “I’m him!” he exclaims. He puffs up his chest in his homemade Trump shirt. It’s a short-sleeved American flag pullover, onto which he has ironed black felt letters across vertical red and white stripes: GOT TRUMP? Then he flashes the O.K. sign, a silver ring on his pinky. “I’m him, dude!”
For Trump supporters like Jones, the O.K. sign—thumb meeting index finger, three fingers splayed—is a kind of secret handshake. It began as a joke—a “hoax” meant to trick liberals into believing that the raised fingers actually represent the letters WP: white power. The joke worked so well that it became real. Now, in certain circles, O.K. does mean white power—unless you say it doesn’t. Jones, a big, vein-popping, occasionally church-going white man burdened with what he calls an “Islamic” name by his hippie mother, revels in this kind of coded message, a sense of possessing knowledge shared only by a select few. It’s Möbius strip politics, Trumpism’s defining oxymoron: a populist elite, a mass movement of “free thinkers” all thinking the same thing. They love Trump because he makes them feel like insiders even as they imagine him their outsider champion. That’s what’s drawn Jones here, to the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, two weeks before Thanksgiving. Like many of the president’s 14,000 followers waiting for the rally to begin, Jones believes that Trump is on a mission from God to expose (and destroy) the hidden demons of the deep state
To attend a Trump rally is to engage directly in the ecstasy of knowing what the great man knows, divinity disguised as earthly provocation. Jones tells me about Jesse Lee Peterson, a right-wing pastor and talk show host who calls Trump “the Great White Hope.” He doubles over and slaps his knee, signaling to me that it’s another joke. “He’s black!” says Jones, meaning Jesse Lee Peterson. “I love that dude,” he says. He considers Peterson, like the White Hope himself, awesomely witty. Jones straightens up. “But it’s true!” he adds. Which is how racism works at a Trump rally, just like the president’s own trolling—signal, disavowal, repeat; the ugly words followed by the claim that it was just a joke followed by a repetition of the ugly words. Joking! Not joking. Play it again, until the ironic becomes the real.
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