But their real function, he argued in an interview, was to provide psychological comfort to those who are, giving them a signal that their sense of persecution at the hands of woke America was rooted not in racism but clearheadedness. They also provided comic relief at rallies that took on a Coachella for Conservatives vibe, complete with crowd surfers like Vernon Jones, a Democratic former member of Georgia’s state legislature, who did this maskless at a campaign stop in Macon, Ga., last month, as the pandemic continued to surge.
“Trump created the cult that includes people who serve as court jesters there to entertain the monarch and augment his power,” Mr. Robinson said. “The court jester is not the most talented person in the village. It’s the clown. It’s the person willing to do the ‘thing’ to serve the monarch, the folks who will say crazy stuff and say it even more crazy than Trump would.”
Of course, he noted, the people who served in this function were not just Black.
Enter Richard Grenell, a telegenic, white, openly gay, right-wing Fox News contributor who in 2017 became the ambassador to Germany after staunchly supporting the president on air. In February he was named the acting director of National Intelligence, a temporary position that nevertheless gave him oversight of the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and 15 other government agencies.
After the election, Mr. Grennell headed to Las Vegas to help with Mr. Trump’s baseless effort to uncover widespread voter fraud. There, he was captured on camera at a news conference dressing down an MSNBC reporter, simply because the reporter asked what evidence exists to back up the president’s claims of illegitimate voting. It established him as yet another member of the ever-revolving backup band that refuses to admit a majority of Americans have pulled the plug.
But Mr. Vargas of Define American said the coming end of the Trump presidency will not mark the end of the players within it. “As much as establishment Republicans recoil at Trump, they are still being very careful about critiquing him, because doing so isn’t just a decision to go up against him,” he said. “It’s a decision to go up against this whole media ecosystem he created that’s not going away.”