On Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump posted a bizarre Nickleback meme on twitter attacking Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, with the caption: “LOOK AT THIS PHOTOGRAPH!”. Let’s explore the reasoning behind such a strange act.
At 2:06 pm this Wednesday, the President of the United States shared an edited video implying that Joe Biden has been involved in corrupt dealings in Ukraine, whilst referencing an internet meme with origins as far back as 2007. This would not seem particularly unusual to those with a general idea of Trump’s twitter output, but when the President is in the brink of potential impeachment, and the meme in question summarises his key line of defence, absurd is almost too polite an adjective.
To those who are unaware of the President’s predicament, allow me to fill you in. On the 26th of September, a complaint filed by an anonymous whistle-blower, alleged to be a CIA agent, was released to the general public. The complaint accused Donald Trump of attempting to solicit help from a foreign nation to further his personal political interests.
Specifically, Trump was accused of asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, the current frontrunner to receive the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, over alleged conflict of interest involving his son’s business dealings in Ukraine in 2014.
Under US law, soliciting help in a Presidential campaign from a foreign government is a federal crime. In essence, Donald Trump has a very real chance of being removed from office.
So why is this ridiculous meme important? It gives us an insight into Trump’s thought process. Trump has an impressive history of surviving scandal after scandal and his strategy is very simple; let’s call it Normalisation and Diversion.
Step one: Normalisation. Take the Access Hollywood tape that leaked before the 2016 election, which contained the infamous “grab her by the p***y” remark. Any conventional candidate would have immediately stood down, but Trump briefly apologised and dismissed his remarks as “locker room talk”, thus normalising them.
Step two: Diversion. In a debate later on in his campaign, Trump diverted attention to a Democratic Party figure, in this instance Bill Clinton. He proclaimed “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words and his was action”. This is also known as Whataboutism, a Soviet propaganda tactic.
Although simple, this PR strategy has been infinitely successful. By essentially gaslighting America, i.e. making his country doubt what they know to be true and good, he has debased the moral currency of the nation.
So, even if you find the Nickleback meme amusing, just be aware that by sharing or commenting on it on social media, you are inadvertently fuelling Trump’s highly successful diversion strategy. Even now, he is in the process of normalising a federal crime by publicly calling on China to investigate Joe Biden. Let’s hope that the impeachment proceedings put an end to this administration’s dangerous distortion of reality.
By Max Ingleby