Perhaps I’m a glutton for pain, but I follow several “Deplorable” social media sites. These are the kinds of places where “–isms” (racism, sexism, etc.) are welcome. The participants take great pride in being “free speech zones” where “political correctness” (also factual correctness) is not tolerated. Every once in awhile, someone pops into a conversation to say that, hey, maybe Deplorables should be nicer to each other, especially when someone asks a genuine question or expresses real concern that, uh, maybe the Trump presidency isn’t meeting expectations (The lack of a border wall is a serious concern.). Trump devotees quickly berate anyone who raises a doubt, with the more patient of them arguing that Trump is playing 11 dimensional chess and that we should never have any doubts about someone who is clearly so smart and successful. Others just call names. So, yeah, it’s a real gutter.
There is a lot that interests me about these groups. Do none of them have friends or loved ones who would be hurt by the language they use to describe others? Granted, I doubt any of them know any actual socialists (one of their top insults), but surely they know people with intellectual disabilities (The r-word is their favorite, unfortunately.). They get hugely offended by people calling them racists, but they love to invoke racists tropes, even though the use of an explicit racial epithet might get a post removed, even as they say that people of every race should support Trump. Like, I’m not sure how the personal and political merge with these folks, unless they are as awful to people in their personal lives as they are in their political chatter, which is likely.
But here is another thing that confuses me: Their obsessions with Hillary Clinton and the Obamas. Their Dear Leader has been president now for a year and a half, but they can’t seem to let go of their anger about Clinton or the Obamas. (Of course, Trump is the same.) They absolutely delight in saying bad things about them. Posts mocking the Clintons and the Obamas get lots and lots of likes–more, often, than posts uplifting Trump–and they go back to issues like the Lewinsky scandal and Whitewater. And while I think that the Lewinsky scandal continues to matter for #Metoo reasons, Deplorables just use it as a way to mock Mrs. Clinton for her “failure” to retain sexual control over her husband.
Above, a pro-Trump meme shows Trump’s face. Above his head are the words “Hello America!” and, at the bottom of the meme are the words “Meet your new set of balls.” Pro-Trump memes often mention his sexual prowess, wealth, and other measures of masculinity.
Just this week, a poster asked others to share Trump memes. In response, thousands of others posted mostly mean-spirited memes. (Those that were not mean-spirited were over-the-top images of Trump, like the one I share below.) Those that directly referenced Trump frequently used racist, sexist, ableist, or homophobic language, but what was more common were memes showing pictures of Clinton or the Obamas. These images derided them as mentally ill, disabled, intellectually inferior, and sexually “perverse” (Mrs. Clinton as sexually unattractive, Mr. Obama as effeminate, and Mrs. Obama as secretly transgender), and the Obamas are presented, in a variety of racist ways, as unworthy of living in the White House.
It’s not a surprise to me that these themes–ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism–are features of pro-Trump memes. These are the themes of the presidency, too. And I shouldn’t be surprised that Clinton and Obama remain targets for that kind of bigotry. Indeed, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to rile up conservative anger so effectively that the GOP is running midterm ads in several states that feature this retired politicians. They are counting on conservative voters to get so mad about Clinton and Obama that they will turn out in what is looking like it could be an election in which Republicans could lose big.
What, exactly, are they so mad about? Clinton, after all, has been relatively quiet since she lost, and the Obamas have been even quieter. Hillary Clinton released a memoir about the election, of course, and Bill Clinton has co-authored a political thriller with James Patterson, while Chelsea Clinton’s public voice is mostly on Twitter. Not exactly real threats. The Obamas are in talks with Netflix about developing a show highlighting inspirational people. You can’t call them sore losers or political threats.
So, why do Republicans keep bringing them up?
I think it’s that, ultimately, their ads use Clinton and Obama in the same way that those memes do: to remind conservative, white Trump voters that the world is changing. Women and people of color are rising, and in the winner-take-all world they value, that has to be a loss for them.
In other words, they’re scared.