There’s something new happening in this US presidential election cycle. Yes, Donald Trump has upended political convention in just about every way imaginable. But as a celebrity-cum-politician he’s allowed a new kind of 21st century populist revelry to take root: Political cosplay.
Sure, there are some precedents for people dressing up as their favourite political candidate in the past. But compared with what we’re seeing in 2016, there’s no contest. When people wore Richard Nixon masks back in the 1970s they weren’t celebrating the man so much as ridiculing the establishment and the crookedness of it all.
Two demonstrators wearing a President Nixon mask and a Henry Kissinger mask give a Nazi salute in front of the Supreme Court building on July 24, 1974 (AP Photo/John Duricka)
The idea of political candidate dress-up as celebration rather than farce can only happen when your system is so upside down that candidates are beyond parody. Such is the case with Trump — obviously. He’s made of Teflon. He’s a cartoon character, and his younger supporters are more than happy to step into the man’s coif.
This is the natural future of American politics, as Trump has exposed the ridiculousness of it all. Politics has always been a circus. But Americans have fully embraced the opportunity to dress up as the clowns, with confidence that they’re not the punchline — the idea that the system isn’t rigged is the joke.
Trump supporters at a rally in Las Vegas (AP Photo/John Locher)
Even when protestors dress up as Trump you can’t tell that they’re protesting. They look exactly like the supporters. I honestly can’t tell if this guy at a Trump rally in New Hampshire back in February is a supporter or a protester:
Trump cosplay in Manchester, New Hampshire (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Or take a look at the guy below. Getty Images identifies him as a protester. But can you really tell the difference?
Trump protester (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Of course, this Trump cosplayer in Virginia looks like a solid supporter:
Trump supporter at a rally in Radford Virginia on Februrary 29 (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
And there’s this guy at a Trump rally in Mobile, Alabama, who’s obviously a supporter, even if his wig is a bit too crimson:
Trump supporter dressed in a red wig (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
And here’s a supporter from a rally in Lowell, Massachusetts:
Trump supporter in Massachusetts (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
And another at a rally in South Carolina:
Young Trump supporter trying to speak with the man himself (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Many of the people dressing up as Trump look like teens, well-versed in cosplay culture. Then there’s the children. Oh Lord, think of the children. They, of course, have no say in the matter. But their parents are dressing them up as Lil’ Trumps across the nation.
The real Donald Trump gestures to a five-year-old dressed up as him at a rally in Georgia (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
And some of them sure are cute, politics aside. But not all of them are happy about it.
Donald Trump holds a Lil Trump he “pulled from the crowd” in New Orleans (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Whatever impact Trump has on the future of politics, it would seem that there’s something even more important than being a political outsider: Being a character on par with a comic book villain so that cosplayers can dress up to support you.
Trump masks of the more Nixonian variety being produced in Mexico (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
During a Trump administration every day is Comic-Con, and it’s the biggest, best Comic-Con in history.
Top image: Fourteen-year-old Kaylie Kilpatrick and James Hanna dress like Donald Trump during a campaign rally in South Carolina (Jim Watson//AFP/Getty Images)