A Tale of Two Memes

15 12 19
By Melissa Ryan
This was originally from the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete newsletter. If you’re not currently subscribed to Ctrl Alt-Right Delete but you’d like to be, you can sign up to receive it by clicking here.

This week the @TrumpWarRoom campaign Twitter account tweeted a meme of President Trump as Thanos, the genocidal villain as depicted recently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I saw some disbelief on lefty Twitter, and condemnation from the original creator of the Thanos character. CNN reporter Don Lemon asked the Trump campaign on air “Are you people insane?” The Root, also noting Trump’s recent Rocky meme, where his head was superimposed on Sylvester Stallone’s body, declared that “we are being governed by evil Ritchie Rich.”

The reaction was amusing but in truth, the meme is fairly on-brand for the MAGAverse. Trump is an authoritarian, and his base believes that Trump should have the power to do whatever he pleases. Memes depicting Trump tend to invoke raw power. Right or wrong doesn’t really figure into it. A Presidential campaign posting these types of memes might be new territory in American political discourse (though Trump himself has tweeted a lot of memes in this vein before) but this kind of imagery is common on pro-Trump online forums and discussions.

Every time I use one of these images in the newsletter, at least one person will email me assuming the meme is a joke and actually created to mock Trump. I can’t blame them because MAGA memes and art are a bizarre genre. Four years into this, and I still can’t get used to pro-Trump iconography. 

Talia Lavin has a piece this week about the “twisted masculinity of pro-Trump art”. She’s talking about actual paintings depicting Trump (yes, they exist) but I think her piece applies to the memes as well, especially this passage:

But there is another America that sees a different man than the one skewered on an endless conveyer belt of lazy late-night sketches. It is the crowd that lines up and bays for blood at his rallies, the crowd that donated some $20 million from their own pockets to help their idol build his wall. There is a segment of the American population for whom the president represents both unbridled possibility and unbridled vigor. The president gestures at it with his Twitter avatar, a ten-year-old image burnished and filtered to better reflect his own vanity. His face is set in a fierce, drawn-browed scowl, and his cheeks are smooth. But the best chroniclers of how the president is seen by those who adore him are not photographers, and still less the roving, cruel, klieg-lighted lenses of cameramen. Those who seek to create encomiums to the Dear Leader are forced to do so in oil and ink, and the best of them have forged an entirely new man, one who radiates strength from a taut, well-muscled core.

Memes show us how Trump sees himself (and how his supporters by extension see themselves) but they also show us who Trump and his base actually are. The other @TrumpWarRoom meme that made news this week was an image of Trump’s head superimposed on Greta Thunberg’s body on her Time magazine cover. It came a few hours after a clearly jealous Trump tweeted misogynist and ableist insults about the teenage climate activist. 

The campaign meme, suggesting that no one but President Trump deserves to be Time’s person of the year, comes off as desperate. The leader of the free world cyberbullying a teenager is pretty pathetic but a grown man mocking Thunberg because he’s jealous of her sums up Trump as a man and a leader up quite well.


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