I wish I knew who took this photograph. I saw it this morning and I had an immediate emotional response to it. It’s a powerful photo. It’s not art, but it documents something critically important about yesterday’s announcement that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the 2020 election.
The finger is a gesture that’s been around since the Greeks and Romans. It’s a universal gesture of contempt, of anger, of disrespect, of defiance. It means Fuck you, it means Go fuck yourself, it means Shove this up your ass. It’s NOT a polite gesture.
We’ve seen this gesture a lot during the Trump administration. We’ve often seen it at Trump rallies, when Comrade Trump would point out the ‘fake news’ journalists. For these Trump supporters, the finger is an expression of rage and resentment and hatred. It’s Fuck you for who you are and for not supporting Trump.
We’ve also seen it used by folks opposed to Trump. Because Trump rarely appears in front of people who don’t support him, the finger has most often been displayed metonymically (yes, that’s a real word). People give the finger to some thing or object that represents Trump (like one of his properties). In this sense, it’s usually an expression of defiance as well as anger. It’s case of Fuck you and what you stand for.
There was, of course, the case of Juli Briskman, who was famously photographed in 2017 giving the finger to Trump in his motorcade as they passed her on her bike. She said,
“It was just sort of like, here I am on my bike. I’ve got nothing, right? This is pretty much the only thing I had to express my opinion. He wasn’t going to hear me through bullet-proof glass… So that was pretty much how I could say what I wanted to say, right?”
Ms. Briskman was subsequently fired from her job as a government contractor for taking advantage of the opportunity to say what she wanted to say. Her finger was an expression of Fuck you, you don’t represent me or my values. Happily, she was later elected to the Loudon County Board of Supervisors. There’s a bit of poetic justice for you.
The finger in all its manifestations has been a constant during the Trump years. But take another look at that first photograph. Look at the faces of the people. Notice the absence of anger. That’s what makes this photo important, I think. This finger isn’t an expression of “Fuck you, I HATE you, get out!” This is a joyful Fuck you, Donny. This is an expression of “I’m SO happy you’re leaving, now you can just fuck right off.”
To me, the the spontaneous celebrations were the most amazing and delicious aspects of yesterday. The unplanned, impromptu eruptions of joy and happiness and relief. It was an organic response to the release of four years of tension. It was the dancing and the laughing and the shared sense that years of darkness and horror and sickness and death and despair were giving way to a brighter future. Yesterday we weren’t just saying Fuck you Donald Trump, we were also saying Fuck you to ugliness and racism and hate and Covid and the constant weight of the gloom of Trump.
Yes, there’s a shit-ton of work to do. Yes, there are going to be ugly times ahead. But man, let’s not forget how we felt yesterday and how many of us still feel this morning. Let’s hang on to that joy. Joy is nourishment and it will sustain us through the coming months and years.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The photograph was taken by AP photographer Evan Vucci. Thanks to Patrick Power for alerting me to this.