THE FIRST RULE OF THUMB for a responsible public figure is AVOID GESTICULATION. In so much of the political class, histrionics are frequently unconscious, and this has the subtle effect of diminishing the power of words, rather than of reinforcing them. Careless gestures are open to cultural interpretation in ways that ordinary words are not, particularly if the words and the gestures do not appear to jibe. Far better to sit on those soft little hands and try to speak simply.
It has been curious, then, to witness the President’s repeated use of the OK sign—a compulsive physical tic which in his hands manages to refute The First Rule of Thumb in no way at all. Of particular note in his case is the fact that The Gesture and its context never reinforce each other. The concepts he attempts to express are never OK; the sentiments involved are never widely acknowledged, and his stream-of-unconscious ramblings lack the coherence and perspicuity that The Gesture otherwise assumes. It’s not OK, sahib, it’s just weird.
Prior to He Who Shall Not Be Named, the most apocryphal Presidential example comes to us from the graceless historical recesses of Richard Nixon’s abbreviated tenure. On a visit to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950’s, Nixon thought that tossing off The Gesture—with both hands, no less—was just a ducky idea. Not so much. Most South Americans regard it as vulgar after the fashion of the American middle finger, and they responded in kind with boos and Gestures and the Brazilian version of a political protest, which usually involves Caipirinhas and a Speedo.
The Gesture is equally offensive to Russians, who are otherwise long-accustomed to the political vulgarity handed down from Tsarist and Imperialist times, and which runs straight through to the bare-chested boy on a horse. Yes, they put Trump in office, and they’ve given him a wide birth, but this guy is as dumb as a Pet Rock, and the backup plan does not look многообещающий.(1) Moscow is already losing her patience; the man has outlived his usefulness, he’s unlikely to finish his first year, and he just will not stop with The Gesture.
Arabs regard The Gesture as representing the Evil Eye—a malevolent glare intended to cause misfortune—which is nothing if not proof that gesticulation actually means something around here. When interviewed by Al Jazeera and asked to comment on a post-Trump world, Boromir, son of Denethor, said it best:
“One does not simply walk into Trumpistan. Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye [The Gesture] is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.”
OK. Harsh review. Once upon a time, there was a place in the world for the EPA.
A somewhat more likely possibility is that Trump unconsciously uses The Gesture to suggest precision, as if inviting the audience to peer deeply into some form of finely-nuanced fiction. Conductors often use it in this manner, and no doubt The Man in the High Castle fancies himself conducting the affairs of state, even as the sycophant morons at Breitbart remotely formulate his policy agenda with lugubrious clickbait. The problem with this assumption is that no such nuance exists anywhere in Trumpistan; his are the expressions of a china shop bullshitter—platitudes, bromides, clichés, and that thing that happened that one time with that woman at that place near Red Square, and about which we will speak no further.
No, in this President, The Gesture is properly understood not as precision, but as preening adolescent oversimplification. Amirite? Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is instructive in this regard:
“What’s your name?”
"Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat.”
“That whole thing’s your name?” [The Gesture] “Shorter. Korben Dallas.”
Shorter, on the other hand, might be what is actually on offer, as the First Rule of Thumb is doubly important for little thumbs on little hands under the control of a teeny tiny brain. Luc Besson is nothing if not French, after all, and the French interpretation of The Gesture–worthlessness–seems perfectly apropos here. So take that with your fast food and Freedom Fries.
A better explanation comes from the propeller hat crowd, who regard The Gesture as Illuminati in nature, because—wait for it—it resembles the sign of the devil, six-six-six. (I didn’t write out the numbers, because, well, you know.) Honestly, this strikes a reasonable person as entirely plausible.
Hands down, though, the best explanation comes from the shit-for-brains end of the racist faction of the dirtbag corner of Trumpistan, right down on KKK street. These fine folk regard The Gesture as half of the White Nationalist hand symbol “88.” The eighth letter of the Roman alphabet is “H”, and “HH” is double-secret probation shorthand (oh, the irony) for "Heil Hitler.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
So there’s a good reason why intelligent public figures from all over the kingdom adhere to The First Rule of Thumb, but plenty of reasons why Baron von Orangutang does not. He would do better to sit on those tiny hands for a change and maybe stick his tiny thumb where the sun don’t shine. Now that’s a thumb’s up we can all appreciate. OK? OK!