Sunday, April 14, 2019
The most disheartening thing about living in the Age of Trump is how pathetically low the level of discourse has become on social media. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now known simply as AOC, recently said that you can impeach Trump but that won't change the political climate in this country. There are "much deeper problems" that need to be addressed. Namely, why have conservatives chosen to embrace Trump so fully?
I've written about this in any number of posts but still am not satisfied with the answers I've come up with, especially when I see the memes my friends post on facebook. These are people I once knew, thought well of, but when I see memes like this one, I can only ask, what the fuck happened to this person to post some shit like this?
These memes appear on my timeline everyday. If a person starts posting too many of them, I either put him or her on "snooze" or block his or her posts all together. It really isn't worth responding to because it ends up in a flame war with no one coming off the better for it. Sometimes, it is hard to resist because you just have to wonder what drives these persons to post this crap.
AOC, Ilhan Omar and a number of other prominent Democrats are now receiving death threats on a constant basis. This is fueled largely by the disparaging things that are said about them on social media, Fox News and at Trump rallies. Over a six week period, AOC was mentioned over 3000 times on Fox, an obsession that has raised more than a few eyebrows. Trump has been relatively kind to her, but not Ilhan Omar, who he has chastised at rallies and on twitter, most recently reposting a video linking her to 911.
Most of these stories emanate from the social media, which has become an incubator for extremist views of all sorts. What is odd to me is why so many persons I know repost these memes and videos? Some seem to think they are funny and mean no ill intent. Others use the memes as a shorthand for how they feel about someone and don't expect a response. A few like starting flame wars, tagging persons they think will respond to these memes.
You can easily generate your own memes on sites like imgflip, but most of these memes are widely circulated and usually traced back to troll factories that use the memes to mine for data on social media subscribers, or just simply to spread hate.
The latter is the case with white supremacist groups who are looking to reach out to a broader audience. These groups once lurked in the shadows but not anymore. Thanks to social media they have become mainstream. Satire pretty much allows you to get away with anything, even the most bald-faced hate memes in the name of humor.
It shouldn't be surprising that most of these memes are directed at AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Michelle Obama, as women of color are prime targets. They have become the symbols of affirmative action, much like the welfare mothers popularized in the 1980s. Whites feel that none of these women would have gotten where they are now had they not had an unfair advantage thanks to affirmative action. As such, they represent a threat to the white order, especially when they speak out against it.
In 2016, we saw a "Whitelash," as Van Jones described it. Too many things were going down in the last two years of the Obama administration for the white majority not to react to what they saw as an overthrow of their values. You had some Congresspersons like Steve King openly promoting white superiority, but most Whites were just worried they would be put out of jobs or that their kids would lose their places in schools and universities in response to all these minority protests, namely Black Lives Matter, which became portrayed as a latter-day Black Panthers.
This has been the problem throughout American history. Women and minorities have long been urged to "go slow," largely because you have a society that doesn't respond to change very well. You learn to navigate a system, no matter how bad it is, and don't want to have to go through the process all over again. So what if a few butts get pinched or someone gets called a darkie. Life's not fair, suck it up and move on. That's what my generation likes to think they did.
However, you have a whole new generation today that refuses to accept these "norms" and are speaking out against them. Hence, Millennials have become the prime targets of conservatives, and AOC the principal face. One conservative student group even went so far as to label her a "domestic terrorist," and was forced to apologize in the wake of the social and mainstream media reaction.
The odd part is that one generation gave birth to the other. I have no qualms with Millennials. I am glad to see them asserting themselves, as I have three children that all fit in this age group. However, that is not the case with many of my high school friends on facebook, who see this generation as a threat to their security. They hope to convince their offspring at least that the conservative way is the true way, and all these socialists ideas AOC and other "libtards" are promoting will only bring ruin to our country. So, my friends become proxies for the hate memes floating around social media. They spread these offensive memes, oblivious to the consequences, namely the death threats these targeted persons receive.
Social discourse be damned. This is a cultural war and Whites aren't going to give up their position of authority easily, which is why so many rally around Trump, who is perceived as their great social media warrior. His attempts to impose his white supremacist vision on the country hasn't been so successful, thanks to the federal courts, which he bemoans everyday on twitter.
One of the key aspects of this "white extinction anxiety" is that of the beautiful loser. It is not like these persons actually expected to win in November, 2016. They see the way the demographics are shifting in this country. They just wanted to lodge their protest, but now that we have this big white whale in the Oval Office what do we do with him?
This is where all this panic breaks down. How do you fix something that wasn't broken? The short answer is that you make everything that occurred before look bad, and that anything good that happened after 119 (election day) is directly the result of Trump's actions. It doesn't matter that the economy had been steadily improving for seven years before Trump took office, he brazenly takes all the credit for the historic low unemployment rate and historic high stock markets.
None of these people actually suffered under our first black president, but thanks to a steady flow of hate memes and fake news were led to believe they did. They were easy pickings for Trump and his red truckers cap that became symbolic of this counter-reformation, determined to wipe the name of Obama from the history books all because of the grudge Trump bore from being made the brunt of former president's jokes at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.
The beautiful loser turned into the vindictive winner. The older generation could now dictate the rules to the younger generation. For two years the old white guard pretty much had its way, but then came the "femlash," for lack of a better word, in which women rose up against a misogynistic president and conservative party to take back the House with a historic number of women representatives, the vast majority of which were Democrats.
We've only been three months into this new era, yet it feels like years, largely because women like AOC and Ilhan Omar reawakened the feminism of Nancy Pelosi's era, and so the two eras have become almost seamlessly interwoven in the pink pussyhat. There is no longer any room for crusty old white men in Washington, least of all in the White House, which women hope to take over in 2020.
The GOP is banking on another "whitelash," or more specifically "malelash," next year that will restore white male order to Congress and keep Trump in the White House. Mitch McConnell has referred to it as a "firewall" against socialism, which is already generating a deluge of memes spreading throughout social media.
No one really stops to think what AOC or Ilhan Omar or Nancy Pelosi is actually saying. The troll farms cut and paste their "quotes" and attach them to images and videos, which the president then spreads on twitter to all his devoted following and very quickly can be seen throughout the social media. These women become symbols of our worst nightmares, and as AOC and Ilhan Omar are finding out the hard way, it is very difficult to overcome.
Nancy Pelosi knows this game all too well. She's a veteran of these psychic wars and has come back stronger than ever in reinstating herself as House Speaker. She stood down Trump on the government shutdown and appears to have the upper hand on the Mueller Report, which the White House is trying hard to keep under wraps. The last thing it needs is for all the details of the report to be made public during an election year.
In the meantime, social media struggles to find ways to keep its platforms clean of the vitriolic memes and videos that so easily capture our thoughts and imagination. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram hope to make this a free and fair election, not one driven by prejudice and hate as it was the last time around. I would like to think we could have those uncomfortable but necessary conversations about politics with friends on facebook but that is not likely. People tend to freeze up when challenged and resort to tropes to defend their positions. Where's a good meme when you need one?