Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Five #MAGA Types You Meet Online

As a foremost expert in weird right-wing pathologies (if a terrible predictor of election results), I think it's useful to present friends and fellow travelers a taxonomy of Trump support on the internet. These categories include areas of considerable overlap, and are not intended to be comprehensive, but they should provide a useful starting point to understanding the strange world of #MAGA.

The Literal Child
Driving insecurity: hormonal rage
In the not-too-distant past, rambunctious, mostly male youths would have used the internet mainly to surreptitiously download illicit pictures using their parents' AOL dial-up password after bedtime. The ready availability of pornography, however, has led more kids to pursue activities like trolling, which has existed as long as the internet but is particularly enticing to aimless under 18s whose brains are not fully developed and haven't learned how to interact with girls yet. In their quest for individuality, precocious teens learn to sublimate their identity to that of their 4chan or Reddit board, to be relentlessly irritating and shocking, and to seek attention from older, more ideological sad sacks with higher social capital and popular YouTube channels. It's like Freaks and Geeks for racism and misogyny.


Regarding Trump, game recognizes game, and it's natural that a horde of Pepes would glom on to the most successful professional troll in recent history, especially when the outrage they seek is easy to generate. The actual size of this group is unknowable (the terrible writing and shallow reasoning endemic to alt-right spaces indicates it's not insignificant), but the good news is that most kids eventually grow out of the trolling stage, and many of the obnoxious shits for Trump may yet become functioning members of society with proper socialization and a little education.

The Gamer
Driving insecurity: failing at adulthood
The Gamer is not just someone who enjoys video games. Gamer, for some, is a lifestyle. An identity. Specifically, one that revolves around ravenous consumption of electronic toys produced by an industry infamous for open disdain towards its customer base. That's hardly unique under late capitalism, but the brand of Gamer I'm talking about revels in his (they're usually male) consumption, secure in the knowledge that he is uniquely able to see through the bullshit and marketing for the products he spends thousands of dollars on. Unfortunately, these Gamers are often bedeviled by a lingering doubt that their very important hobby is taken seriously by society. Even though pop culture has never been more ascendant in critical consciousness, Gamers know they being sneered at by the elite powers that be: the feminists, the SJWs, and the video game journalists.

Besieged Gamers speak without irony of being an oppressed class, of fighting for Gamer Rights. They write like Hanna-Barbera villains because their primary exposure to language is video game dialogue and message board pedantry. The appeal of a president who shares their proclivity for conspiracies, their sense of victimization, and their disdain for women is obvious. Of course, many Gamers style themselves as anarchic libertarians, so beyond the rebellious aesthetic their association with a movement that's essentially stodgy and authoritarian (which is to say, thoroughly Republican) is an odd fit. It seems likely that as Trump inevitably becomes a mainstream figure his appeal will wane and Gamers will return to their their first passion: harassing women.

The Nazi
Driving insecurity: sexual frustration
Perhaps the most pernicious representatives of the so-called alt-right are its vanguard core of loosely affiliated white nationalists, some of whom have cynically co-opted the vocabulary of left identity politics to call for social and geographical safe spaces for their own dopey vision of white society. That their analysis of whiteness happens to correspond with 1930s Nazi race science is either a source of pride or something to be denied depending on the occasion, but they're remarkably bad at hiding it either way. Of course, online champions of the White Race are rarely its peak physical archetypes--most of them would get their asses kicked by the white supremacists our prison system produces, let alone the hardscrabble workers Trump claims to represent, and they know it.

Frankly, online Nazism is mostly reducible to sex: they are obsessed with birth rates, interracial coupling, and the "traditional" male-dominated family as a means of upholding the race. There is, of course, considerable tension between their "traditionalism" and the perpetual adolescence encouraged by the communities where the alt-right thrives. To put it bluntly, it's hard to take calls for white masculinity seriously from someone who goes by SaxonWrath1941, uses a sexy anime character as an avatar, and complains constantly about women ruining dating. Turns out some women want more than to be some man-child's part time mother/sexual outlet.

The appeal of Trump to white nationalists is obvious, but it's worth noting that this group is fairly small and powerless within the Republican party. Besides, who needs Richard Spencer when you've got Steve King and Jeff Sessions? Indeed, the most striking thing about Trump among elected Republicans is his tendency to fuck up his own agenda by repeatedly saying the quiet part loud.

The Angry Old
Driving insecurity: social isolation
Older voters, however vaguely defined, are the cohort most responsible for electing Trump, and are generally more affluent, hawkish, and religious than younger voters. This is a dangerous combination, especially among those who believe the laughable fiction that financial stability is largely attributable to hard work and vote accordingly. Of course, decades of stagnant wages have affected older people much as anybody, but patriotism is a hell of a drug, and there exists an entire media ecosystem dedicated to reassuring them that all of this is the fault of liberals and brown outsiders rather than the companies offering the lowest APR every commercial break. This hurts families too: nobody wants to visit when Fox News is blasting and the folks are railing about Agenda 21 or some shit.

Fear of isolation is compounded as nonwhite people increasingly move to suburban enclaves, and older Americans have found solace online. Old MAGA types are easily identifiable by their American flag avatars, their propensity to misuse capitalization, and their repeating of 1990s Rush Limbaugh talking points. Some see in Trump a kindred spirit, the iconoclastic titan of industry they were raised to admire, but mostly they just share his disdain for the liberal media, a bizarre construct in which Anderson Cooper occupies the same ideological terrain as Leon Trotsky. The good news--and I say this with full acknowledgement that I'm fond of many older people, even ones with bad politics--is that their days are numbered, and the rising generation is significantly, probably permanently, to their left.

The True Believer
Driving insecurity: some combination of economics and racism, let's not rehash that debate here
The most frequently highlighted segment of Trump supporters are those who stubbornly maintain that a dimwitted reality TV star will improve their material conditions, Some, in fairness, have been left behind by deindustrialization and the neoliberal economic order, deprived by forces beyond their control of the respectable middle-class life they were promised while the safety net was gutted around them. Some believe that minorities and refugees have been permitted to vault ahead of them with the blessing of liberal elites, an enticing fantasy perpetuated by decades of cynical right-wing demagoguery and hapless triangulation from the left. And let's be honest, some people just resent any pop culture not aimed at them (this includes a lot of creepy #MAGA Christians).

Obviously a pampered real estate mogul won't actually help most of these people, and for the genuinely struggling things will get likely get worse. It might even be enough to cost the president reelection, though at present that's far too distant to guess. Time will tell whether Democrats discover yet again that being marginally better may not be enough to overcome vicious scapegoating of Muslims, trans people, and whoever else can be used to deflect attention from the donor class. Either way, rich people who just want their taxes cut will likely have their faith in Trump repaid, so bully for them, at least.

The unique genius of Donald Trump has been his ability to repackage old grievances in a way that excites portions of the GOP base and brings in new audiences with major electoral significance in spite of his broad unpopularity. Whether there's hope for the kinds of people described here varies widely, but promising young people free stuff on the backs of the rich isn't a bad place to start the fight. We probably ought to ban video games, too.

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