The finger pointers began coming to Trump Tower in 2004. Donald Trump was making the transition from property mogul to TV celebrity in The Apprentice, and fans would head to his iconic skyscraper on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. There they would point an index finger at the 58-storey tower (where the top floor is labelled 68) and shout his catchphrase, ‘You’re fired.’
Fast forward twelve years to America’s most polarising and bitter election and the pointers are still coming. It’s just that the proffered finger is no longer the index and the sentiment is rather less good-natured. Stand on the pavement outside the golden entrance to 725 Fifth Avenue – where protesters and supporters now operate a daily circus – and it doesn’t take long to spot a middle-finger salute.
On a recent afternoon, Michael Karimian, 31, paused briefly among the throng. He slipped his phone from his pocket with his left hand, before offering that most American of gestures with his right. He was on his way before the uniformed police officers stationed at the doors could spot him (not, you suspect, that they would care) with a snap that would be on Facebook by the end of the day.
Karimian, a Brit living in Paris after years spent in New York, said he was watching the US election with alarm from overseas. During a work trip back to the city he realised a shopping expedition to buy a new phone would take him right past Trump HQ and he could not resist making his feelings clear.
He said he was worried his American friends were still treating Trump as a joke. ‘They see how he is not qualified to be president but I don’t think they realise simply how dangerous he is,’ he said, adding that he had been inspired to make his stand by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei whose iconic photographs show him raising a middle finger to seats of cultural or political power, starting with Tiananmen Square.
But Karimian is not the only one to have made the pilgrimage with the intention of flipping it off. Search Instagram for ‘Trump Tower’ and there are plenty of photos which include a straight middle finger and the entrance sign to Trump’s most famous building. Some are from across the street, others in the middle of the throng. Some fingers face the tower, others the photographer. CNN even accidentally caught a middle finger in the background of a news report.
All show how this poisonous election has affected Trump’s brand, the only thing left of a business that long ago switched from actually building things to licensing out the family name as an easier, more lucrative way of making money.
His new hotel in Washington DC has been forced to drop its prices. His daughter, Ivanka, reportedly asked that her campaign advert go without too much promotion for fear it would negatively impact on her clothing line. And when a new hotel offshoot is launched it will bear no trace of the Republican candidate’s surname, bearing instead the moniker Scion. By some estimates, Trump’s value has declined by $800m this year. Quite whether it was all worth it will become clearer in the next 48 hours.
After the American people have voted, what next for the US and the rest of the world? Join panellists including Sir Christopher Meyer, KCMG, former British ambassador to the US, for a discussion chaired by Andrew Neil on 30 November at RIBA, London. Tickets include a drinks reception. In association with Seven Investment Management. Book now.