Carpe Donktum is a well-known creator of memes, whose work is not only very pro-Trump but has often been shared by the President himself. In light of the recent controversy surrounding a logo used in a video shared by President Trump, Carpe Donktum submitted the following column to Mediaite.
On Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump shared a short video highlighting some of the accomplishments of his administration via his Twitter account. The video was created by meme-maker @som3thingwicked, and very much resembles a professional campaign ad. Visually attractive, it strikes a delicate balance between style and information delivery, all wrapped up neatly with the question “I stand with Trump in 2020, DO YOU?”
The response to this video was to be expected: social media users predictably either loved or hated the video based on their pre-established feelings for Trump. That should have been where it ended, but as is 2019 custom, it didn’t.
In the world in which we currently live, it is never enough to simply dislike something, especially with the left. It must be destroyed, the earth salted, and everything within a 10-mile radius paved over and surrounded by caution tape. We no longer have a society where agreeing to disagree is allowed.
No, the other side of every debate is not only wrong but evil.
Which brings me to the topic of discussion in this piece, how symbols and memes are used to politically bludgeon opponents.
This is not a phenomenon unique to either the left or right, but, at least in the eyes of this partisan writer, the left uses the tactic to greater effect. I say partisan as an admission that I cannot cut myself off completely from my own established beliefs, no more than I can cut off my own head and continue writing. Bias is inherent to everything we do and admitting this is key to an open and honest dialog about any topic.
Thank you for the support as we MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/qKgwRMSgcf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2019
Less than 24 hours after President Trump tweeted this video, the first wave of flailing counter-attacks hit the internet. Bypassing a slow build, the attackers came right out of the gate charging white supremacy.
At the very end of the video, there was a logo which prominently features a lion surrounded by stars, and which includes the text “Trump-Pence 2020.” According to people who immediately hated the video before they even watched it, this was a symbol right out of Nazi propaganda, and yet another dog whistle that only they and the apparent virulent racists could hear.
The attacks were aimed not at the accuracy of the information, but at a symbol that 99.9% of the audience, both lovers and haters, did not find objectionable or even noteworthy. This is the state of discourse in this country. Ignore the message that was front and center for 1 minute and 8 seconds of the video — which was that President Trump is doing good things — and instead focuses on the graphic that was on the screen for six seconds as the music faded out. Those six seconds were THE REAL MESSAGE they seemed to scream in unison.
Let’s look at the history of that symbol, in full disclosure I have used it many times in my own work; I love it.
A quick search on Tineye (a reverse image lookup search engine) reveals that the first-ever appearance of the lion symbol was on Shutterstock on February 16th, 2015. I will admit that I am not completely up to date on every Nazi propaganda outlet in existence, but I am fairly certain that Shutterstock is not listed on the SPLC hate map. That being said, symbols can be co-opted and re-purposed. This is the internet era, a time when milk and the OK sign are “racist” and a cartoon frog is seen by some as “literally Hitler” after all.
The next relevant use of the symbol I found was on a website for a group (or individual, membership data is unknown) calling themselves the “Lions of Trump.” I am personally deeply involved in the MAGA universe, and I can honestly say I have NEVER heard of this group, and I would guess that no one else has either, considering their last post was June 15, 2016.
Between the Shutterstock posting and Lions of Trump use, the graphic was altered to include a golden mane in some, and a red, white, and blue color scheme with the word MAGA in others. These additions were not the work of one person but, as with many things on the internet, they were a collaboration of many people sharing and adding to the logo to suit their own purposes. Crowd-sourced, you might say.
One of the many purposes, one that made up the bulk of the uses found on Tineye, was for mass merchandising to Trump supporters in the form of shirts, hats, mugs, etc. Again, this is the nature of the internet and meme culture: collaborative or independent improving (or sometimes detracting from) an original idea. It is the ease of transformation of content to suit the needs of each individual that makes memes so popular in the first place. That’s why they go viral. And end up on coffee mugs and swag.
In my case, I’ve been aware of the logo since early 2016, not from VDARE or any place affiliated with White Supremacists, but because I exist in the Trumpverse on the internet. I use social media, visit websites, forums. The logo was and is widely used for avatars, in site headers, like watermarks, in intros and outros, and, again, on merchandise, Trump supporters from all over the spectrum use it. A lot. It’s everywhere.
We like it. But why do we like it? Doesn’t that seem like an important question?
The symbol for the Democratic Party is a donkey. The symbol for the Republican Party is an elephant. MANY Trump supporters feel that we no longer belong to either party. Sure, we vote Republican, but the general feeling is that the GOP is a different side of the same coin. We belong to a new unofficial party, the MAGA party, and its animal spirit is that of a noble lion, strong, brave, and true.
In my search, I can verify that in some instances, the symbol was in fact used by fringe elements that called themselves MAGA or claimed to be supporters of Trump. While I acknowledge that these people exist and that they did use this symbol, they were a tiny, tiny, minor fraction of the people who have used it, and what’s more, used it with the least success.
Their abhorrent ideology and rage-fueled racism made sure that no one outside of their tiny circle of losers gave them, or their appropriation of the logo, a second thought. After all, they have no claim to it, and no serious person could possibly believe that they do. They have as much ownership of that symbol as they do the fonts that they use in their propaganda.
I ask you, if Helvetica became the official font of the KKK, would half the news outlets denounce it as a “racist” font? Or call any other use of Helvetica racist by association? Of course not! That would be ludicrous. But that is the very discussion we are having right now.
So, who does “own” the symbol, now? I would argue that people like me and @som3thingwicked do, not some random racist that no one has ever heard of and hasn’t said a word since 2016. Symbols in the age of the internet mean everything and they mean nothing, and the power they hold is only in the mind of the person viewing it. Symbols can often reveal more about the person YOU are than they can about the person who posted it. They can be a mirror, showing you either your darkest fears or your highest ideals, depending on how you feel about them.
So who owns our symbols, the masses or the madmen?
Based on what I have observed in the last three years, many on the left are terrified of a threat that can only be seen in the reflection of a symbol or heard with ears specially tuned to silent whistles. Far too often the left is unwilling to ask what these iconic images mean to the people that use them, and instead project their own fears on to everyone that posts them.
Since 2016, I have watched as MAGA has been slowly stolen from those who first embraced it and twisted into a quasi hate symbol by those who never stopped to ask what it meant to us.
I’ll tell you what it meant, and still means, to me: MAGA stands for returning power to the American people, taking it back from career politicians obsessed with accumulating wealth and power. It stands for doing what is right for Americans, at home and abroad. Not just for one color of American, one religion, or one gender, but for all of us. MAGA, to me, is about taking care of our citizens first, so that we can better take care of the world, when able.
The first duty of ANY nation is to its citizens. I’m not alone in this understanding of what is meant by the phrase Make America Great Again. Yet, for almost half the country, that meaning is gone, lost amid the clamorous drumbeat of rumors, whispers, and lies. Co-opted by people that refuse to attack the merits of symbol or slogan, and instead paint its bearers with a brush soaked in their own fears.
The fears of a hysterical few projecting their nightmare onto our symbols.
All of this has lead to the laziest and most unhealthy public dialog in living memory. We no longer ask, we assume. We no longer check facts, we check origin stories.
We don’t just shoot the messenger, we destroy their monuments, and we burn down their village. Everyone is talking, few are listening, and the signposts on this road all warn Destruction Ahead.
Carpe Donktum writes under a pseudonym to protect his privacy. Mediaite has confirmed his identity but respects his wishes.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.