Okay, so, I finally did it. For way longer than I thought possible, I stayed away from the 21 minute political masterpiece that you’ve all been raving so much about. I’m proud of how long I resisted this thing, as it was teasing my interest nonstop from all over the Internet, silently lurking around every shadowy corner of social media. My poor knuckle suffered five arduous days of nervous chewing as I withstood the video’s mysterious seductive powers. But I am only human.
First, there was the Tina Fey’s SNL parody racing across my News Feed that part of me so badly wanted to watch. But on I scrolled, muting all of Trevor Noah’s blistering monologues along the way. Do you know how hard that was? And as if that wasn’t enough, the New York Times tweeted the next day about the speech’s most “mystifying” lines, which… okay, that one I do admit I clicked on, but I X’d out of it before the story had a chance to load on my phone, swallowing hard and wiping sweat from my face with a nerve-clammed palm .
The entire world was basically going nuts over this thing, and as a certified Internet-junkie myself, it was all I could do to duck my head and shut my eyes and valiantly shoe you all away like a sneeze was coming to me on a crowded escalator. I withstood the meme-barrage until earlier this week, when I was accidentally subjected to a retweeted Vine of Ciera’s “1-2 Step” music video recut into a six second mashup featuring a beautiful bite of “folky” Alaskan twang. And it was upon this Vine’s third loop that I at last submitted, realizing I could forestall this shameful yearning no longer. My bullshit resisters had officially failed me, and I finally did it.
Also, let it be known to the reader that I did not avoid the video of Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump due to some imaginary high-brow journalistic integrity or anything like that. It may seem as if that were the case based on my self-righteous avoidance of the thing, but I assure you that my reasoning was a lot more selfish and petty than a noble ethics dilemma. Simply put, I was afraid to watch the video because of an honest and totally unsophisticated fear of being let down by what I’d see.
Because my thinking was this. When I first heard from a coworker that there was a real life video of (the) Sarah Louise Palin announcing her enthusiastic endorsement for (again, the) Donald Trump in Iowa just 13 days before the caucus, I thought that it was too good to be true. Certainly the TV pundits and the Vine stars and the pretty much entirety of Twitter were exaggerating the speech’s lunacy.
I mean, come on. Relatively speaking, how bad could this endorsement even be in comparison to the lofty standard of near-literal brainlessness that she set during the 2008 election? That kind of political circus show was a once in a lifetime experience, one to be cherished forever in our bittersweet backlogs. 2008 Sarah Palin was our Comet Catalina. She was our Woodstock. To expect any human – even Palin herself – to out-do those Katie Couric interviews or to top those debate performances… well, that would surpass unreasonable and enter into the territory of downright greed.
But anyway, right. So I finally watched it. And then I did it again. And then again once more. Midway through that third viewing I took my first breath in about an hour. Be still, my beating heart.
They say the course of true love never runs smooth – but my goodness if it isn’t worth it.
The video of her speech was everything I could have hoped it’d be and more. This was Sarah Palin in peak form, picking up right where she left off. There was alliterative rhyming (“Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns our God and our religions!”). There was unflinching condemnation of spineless P.C. dogma. (“They’ve been wearing this, uh, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest!”). There was the kind of nuanced foreign policy ideas we’ve come to expect from the GOP (“Tell ‘em to go ‘Kick ISIS’ ass!’”). There were audible scoffs toward the mainstream media and its unbending demands for such liberal heresy as substance and fact-checking. There were words that don’t exist in any of the world’s major languages. There was her patented disregard for both logic and sentence structure. There was the slogan “Make America Great Again” (seven times, actually, which calculates to about once every three minutes).
And then of course, there was, in all his spray-tanned glory, the Donald himself. Through every nonsensical word, every butchered sentence and minced grammatical rule, there he was at stage right, grinning those wet little reptile lips at the camera and into our souls, a cocky smirk glued across that Cheeto-encrusted leather face made famous by a very American combination of  nepotism and  one of the lamest and obviously most beloved reality television shows of all time. Donald J. Trump (whose Wikipedia intro paragraph reads “American business magnate, billionaire investor, socialite, author, television personality, and candidate for President of the United States”) exuded his trademark smugness to a degree of palpability that is just below actual porous ooze as Palin rambled aimlessly for his silent behalf.
Something else that should be pointed out – not for a single one of the 1,271 consecutive seconds of simultaneous enthrallment and stunned disbelief was I free from the thought of how utterly and entirely perfect for one another these two assclowns truly are.
Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are magnificent benefactors of an era that has enjoyed a near total fusion of politics and entertainment. It does not take a microscopic eye to see how explosively polarizing they both are in the news and in everyday discourse. The country is beginning to experience a genre of “polititainment” that has for a long time been disturbingly predictable, and now is here to stay. As is consistently true with any figurehead of American sociopolitical polarization over the past decade, Trump and Palin are both Internet meme goldmines. And now they are together! An almost poetic union… but no, better, because we can make Vines and stuff out of it.
Now, a common and perhaps superficially valid criticism that we all have for the media and each other w/r/t Donald Trump’s campaign (plus by extension the Sarah Palin endorsement [and plus by double extension this column]) is: Why are we glorifying it so much by talking and arguing about it? If we shut up and stop the jeering/laughing/outrage, won’t he go away? Won’t this madness end if we simply allow it to?
Okay, so at surface level that seems like an irrefutable argument, doesn’t it? The problem is that the Trump phenomenon has taken on the characteristics of a social virus, infecting the very fabric of our political discourse across all platforms, mediums, and genres. And there is very little you or I or any one person can do to stop the meme sensation of Trump & his merry band of loud-mouthed racist weasel turds, and here’s why.
First, when analyzing someone whose image is so propagated across social media in the form of viral memes, it would be wise to have a look at the origin of that term itself. When most people (myself once included here) hear the word “meme,” they think of some silly photo that spreads around the Internet with relatable text superimposed over the margins that appeals to our collective societal joys and miseries (here’s looking at you, Scumbag Steve). What’s actually the case is that “meme” is a word much older than the Internet. It’s been a part of the English lexicon since 1979, when British media futurologist Richard Dawkins coined the term in his book, The Selfish Gene.
According to Dawkins, a meme is simply a cultural item that passes brain-to-brain. These sorts of things have been around way before there was a Scumbag Steve or a Bad Luck Brian or (a personal Internet meme favorite of mine) the Bernie Sanders side-eye. Memes include pop songs and advertisements and brand logos/slogans and religious doctrine and sports fandom and celebrity lives. Below is a passage by Dawkins, explaining the science of what he terms “memetics.”
Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation… [an idea] can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
The Donald Trump online polititainment phenomenon exists on the same viral frequency as any other meme in the meme pool. We talk/post about, criticize, laugh at, and support him for the exact same reasons that cultural memes have existed and will always. Ideas that evoke intense feeling always spread rapidly from brain to brain, just the same way that genes pass from person to person within a gene pool, or a contagious virus from cell-to-cell within a once healthy host. And you may rest assured that it is no coincidence whatsoever that the Trumps and Palins of the world are rising to cultural prominence now that there exists an electronic platform for ideas and information to undergo brain to brain transfer at a rate of speed unlike anything this species has ever seen before.
Sarah Palin parody videos (professional and user-generated), Trevor Noah monologues, satirical imitations, annoying tweets (the occasional from yrs. truly), etc. are circulating social media at a feverish pace. Already the Palin endorsement has Trump’s campaign multiplying virally through our cultural thought-sphere the way rabies festers beneath an untreated chunk of fox bitten flesh. And, just like rabies, Trump’s campaign itself is a violent and unstoppable force wreaking its diseased havoc all across our now-infected social/political experience, outside of any one person’s control to stop.
Palin’s endorsement is the latest step in a political performance that’s been one of the most fascinating spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. There is anger and outrage and sarcasm all across the Internet, but also passionate support (manifesting in genuine [if horrifically spelled and/or unironically CAPS-locked] adulation). The culturally memetic virus that is Donald Trump is fueled by the left’s stunned disbelief just as much as it is by the hair-yankingly ignorant support of his voter base who’re out there picking dandelions in deep, deep Right.
Point being, both sides are making this virus spread, and we’re at the point of infection where the disease no longer gives a shit that you’re choosing to ignore its deadliness.
With a steady and commanding lead in all the GOP polls, it is appearing less and less likely that the Republican party will be able to overcome the angry demands of its voter base. By that I mean that it is becoming very probable that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for President, and there’s very little any of us can do about that. So strap in, and hold onto something heavy, because primary elections are dead ahead. Trump’s campaign is speeding toward its sure to be spectacular narrative climax – and if there’s one thing that bigoted, misogynistic, Fascist blowhard can do, it’s put on a hell of a show.
So let’s assume that the likely becomes true. Let’s assume that Trump becomes the GOP’s leading man for the big job. Ultimately, we the people will be faced with one of two possible and mutually exclusive conclusions. (P & M.E.C. #1): Trump loses in the general election in November, logic and virtue prevail, global geopolitical cataclysm without historical precedent is avoided, things return to what could be referred to in most knowledgeable circles as “normal,” etc. (P & M.E.C. #2): The virus stemming from the festering social infection that is Trump’s campaign (and just, you know, overall general existence) proves fatal to its host body (i.e. “us”) and the United States of America elevates a reality TV star and meme-sensation with orange hair and a seventh grade vocabulary into the chief executive leadership position of the Free World.
But you know, hey, on second thought, maybe that’s what we’ve deserved all along.
Aren Robinson LeBrun is a student journalist and award winning filmmaker in pursuit of semi-adulthood in New York City. An incurable sucker for politics and storytelling, he currently works as an editorial intern at Rolling Stone in Manhattan. In his free time, he enjoys bitterly arguing with people about basketball, writing short stories, and drinking black coffee. He dreams to one day trick somebody into paying him for this.