Trump leans in to the cult of personality
He came close to going full QAnon at his rally in Ohio.
I’ve watched just about every speech Trump has delivered for the past six years, so I’m not messing around when I say something is bizarre even by his standards. And the end of Trump’s Saturday evening rally in Youngstown, Ohio, was as surreal as anything I’ve seen at one of his events.
Trump has obviously mostly been in the news lately because of the ongoing criminal investigation into his mishandling of highly classified materials, but that scandal hasn’t dislodged him from his position as the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner. As always, Trump’s campaigning is heavy on blatant lying as well as stoking cultural grievances. But his latest showing in Ohio — one that was ostensibly about campaigning for Republican Senate candidate JD Vance — demonstrated the extent to which he’s willingly become something akin to a religious icon for hardcore MAGAs, even as new polling shows his broader favorability numbers tanking.
As Trump launched into a rant about how American is “in decline” and “a failing nation,” funereal music began to play. It continued as Trump hypnotically droned on about grievances ranging from Hunter Biden’s laptop to gas prices.
The music played for nearly 10 minutes, all the way through the end of Trump’s speech.
I didn’t recognize the tune, but Media Matters researcher Alex Kaplan identified it as a composition by Richard Feelgood entitled “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “where we go one, we go all.” (Trump spokespeople contend, implausibly, that the song’s resemblance to a QAnon anthem is coincidental.)
QAnon, of course, is a deranged, cultish belief system holding that Trump is leading a behind the scenes fight against a satanic global cabal of pedophiles led by prominent Democrats. And as you’d expect, adherents were quick to interpret the musical choice as a shoutout and indication Trump is with them.
Just as bizarre as the music was the fact that as Trump spoke, his fans in Youngstown raised up their hands and extended one finger toward their leader in a scene reminiscent of a fascist rally from the 1930s.
QAnon experts like Will Sommer and Ben Collins tweeted that they weren’t exactly sure what the one-finger salute was supposed to represent, but the New York Times reported Sunday that it was “an apparent reference to the ‘1’ in what [Trump fans] thought was the song’s title.” Others claimed that the gesture was benign, meant simply to symbolize “America First.”
One thing is clear, however, beyond the fact that the finger salute was weird no matter what was intended by it — if Trump doesn’t mean to be promoting Q, he sure does have a habit of accidentally doing so.
We’re moving past winking and nodding to the lunatic fringe
As Trump is no doubt aware, the MAGA movement has often and aptly been compared to a cult. Instead of rejecting QAnon — which, notably, believes in an ultimate day of violent retribution where members of the Democratic cabal will be put to death — Trump has winked and nodded at it.
But even ahead of Saturday’s rally there was a big hint this week that he’s moving toward a more open embrace of Q.
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