Op-Ed: Trump and Entertainment: How dangerous ideology becomes a meme

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Jonah Dietz

Laughing at Trump or with him or both?

Jonah Dietz, Senior Reporter

It’s inauguration day. Donald Trump is officially no longer the president of the United States. He is also no longer allowed on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter after each company expressed concern that he would incite further violence following the riot in D.C. and the storming of the US Capitol building—a result, not only of Trump’s recent incendiary comments and general defiant attitude surrounding the results of the 2020 presidential election and his ambiguously worded statements to protesters and conspiracy theorists, but of all four of his years as president.

Donald Trump has always had an inseparable relationship with entertainment media. Most notably, he was the star of “The Apprentice;” a reality TV show that sought to use his fame as a businessman to sell a drama about hiring and firing eager entrepreneurs. He also used this same fame to generally walk aimlessly through movies and TV shows in strange cameos and promote random business ventures by plastering his name on them. And when it comes to politics, he’s been in them for the exact same reason—fame, a level of fortune that seems to justify it and an affinity for basking in it. Trump was at the 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner, where then-president Barack Obama notoriously roasted the future president’s suppositions of running, simply because he was such a well-known figure. And these suppositions, though their origin is unknown, most likely stem from a dip in Trump’s perceived relevance and a desire to rectify that. His giant ego and raucous presentation make him an entertaining spectacle; mostly, it seemed to me, for those that find his ineptitude and near-farcical actions amusing as they are annoying. I hadn’t realized the full extent of how entertaining he was for those that admired and followed him until January 6, on the steps of the Capitol, when hundreds of his extremist fans charged the Capitol building in a planned riot that had been circulating on social media for weeks.

And when that ill-conceived and treacherous plan was executed, it was in our living rooms and dorms through our media feeds almost as much as it was in the halls of the Capitol building. Rioters took pictures, filmed videos, posted on Twitter, TikTok, Parler—even added the riot to their Bumble account. Lots of the paraphernalia and flags the rioters wore and waved were slogans and memes that existed as entertaining inspiration to their in-group. Their videos detailing plans to storm the capitol and travels to get there was a form of communicating and organizing a coup, but they were also entertainment. It’s easy to characterize Trump as a symbol of proud nationalism to fascists, bumbling buffoonery to his opposition and a voice of complete and total reason to those indoctrinated into his cult of misinformation. But these characterizations overlap in places. The things that make him seem silly or disrespectful are the things that make him funny and a fresh change of pace to others. There are those who look at his hair and see a wad of yellow cotton candy and they still respect his every tweet. There are those who see a picture of a rioter stealing a podium and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, while also feeling disappointed that no one managed to hang Mike Pence. Entertainment is fickle and fluctuating. It has universal appeal.

What is important now, as we enter a new presidency, is to not miss how and why specific groups of people find those that govern our country entertaining. For me, what made Donald Trump so ridiculous was how die-hard his followers were despite how incompetent and flawed every one of his actions was—and it was that very attribute that led to the deaths of 5 people two weeks ago. Social scientists and analysts have been predicting the kind of violence January has shown us for years, because they’re looking beyond what makes Trump entertaining to them and seeing how the entertainment he gives to his followers affects them. And as Joe Biden and his cabinet step up to the plate, it’s vital that we remain watchful of their every facet, not just the ones that make us laugh or make us angry. There are those that may be doing the exact opposite.

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