The hands of Donald Trump Entertainment, gesture, spectacle

Donna Meryl Goldstein, University of Colorado Boulder
Kira Hall, University of Colorado Boulder
Matthew Bruce Ingram, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

Commentators from a broad range of perspectives have been at pains to explain Donald Trump’s transition from billionaire businessman to populist presidential candidate. This article draws on cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and rhetorical theory to argue that the success of Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 Republican primary was in part due to its value as comedic entertainment. We examine the ways that Trump’s unconventional political style, particularly his use of gesture to critique the political system and caricature his opponents, brought momentum to his campaign by creating spectacle. Post-structuralist and neo-Marxist scholars have asserted that late capitalism values style over content: Trump took this characteristic to new heights. The exaggerated depictions of the sociopolitical world that Trump crafts with his hands to oppose political correctness and disarm adversaries accrue visual capital in a mediatized twenty-first-century politics that is celebrity driven.