You could say that the Trump presidency effectively ended when the election ended election night, or when the news outlets called the contest for Joseph R. Biden Jr. four days later. It could be said that it ended when the electoral college voted to hand over the presidency to Mr Biden on Monday, or it would end when Mr Biden is sworn in on January 20th.
But with one measure, the Trump presidency ended in mid-November when online conservatives poked fun at a picture of Harry Styles in a dress.
The photo of the British singer on the cover of December Vogue prompted YouTube personality Candace Owens tweet something“Bring back manly men.” To Ben ShapiroThe photoshoot was an attack on the very concept of masculinity: “Anyone who pretends that there is no referendum on masculinity for men to put on floating clothes is treating you as a full-fledged idiot.”
What does all of this have to do with the president’s imminent exit? First, it suggests that other Conservatives are taking on the role of troll commander-in-chief that Mr. Trump has entrusted to himself.
But it’s also a reminder that the kind of cultural politics that went on before him, and in many ways helped make President Trump possible, will outlive his tenure.
“Duck Dynasty” Policy
A million years ago, in the Obama era, proxy wars over culture were waged on the periphery of conservatism, social media, and right-wing conversation. It was the era of the Gamergate attacks about feminists in the video game community, about the foreign language texts a Coca-Cola commercial and a female reboot of “Ghostbusters”.
With the election of President Trump, a pop culture figure who foresaw the connection between cultural fandom and political tribalism (which he himself made) a “Ghostbusters” outrage video In the year he announced his campaign, conservatism’s political and cultural wings of war merged.
For four years we had a president whose concerns protested at N.F.L. Games, TV awards speeches, Fox News loyalty and the restart of Roseanne. He scoured and resented the Nielsen ratings – his own and those of shows he viewed as allies and enemies – with the intensity a war president could devote to troop movements.
Now that a dwindling Mr. Trump calms down with OANN and Newsmax and the lavish science fiction series tweeted that his election was stolen, command of this battle from the White House returns to the field.
For decades, the expression of politics through cultural warfare has been a staple food for conservative media. Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing online publisher, stated that “politics is after culture” (borrow an idea by Marxist theorists such as Antonio Gramsci). Fox News produced the “War for Christmas” annually (with occasional spin-offs like “Santa Claus and Jesus are white”).
The appeal was emotional; People have a personal relationship with family vacations and their favorite shows show that they don’t have marginal tax rate policies, for example. But it was also an opportunity to address a specific audience in a country where people increasingly had not only different political beliefs but also completely different cultural experiences.
As early as the early 1970s, television’s “Rural Cleanup”, which eliminated bucolic sitcoms like “Green Acres” to make way for urban sitcoms like “All in the Family”, confirmed the idea that there were different America’s diverse, and even competing, popular cultures. That dynamic only spread with cable television and the Internet, which broken us down into a nation of niche demos that shared geography but occupied different psychological spaces.
As historians Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer write in Fault Lines, their study of American polarization since the 1970s, this led to “a world with less in common in terms of what people heard or saw “. This was true of politics and entertainment, and the two often overlapped.
There was recognizable red and blue pop culture now. A 2016 study by The Times found a TV divide reflecting the rural-urban divide in the election. “Deadliest Catch,” the Alaskan crab fishing reality show, was popular in red America. in blue zones “Orange is the new black”, the Netflix drama and the criticism of the prison system.
A survey from 2014 found that 53 percent of Democrats compared with 15 percent of Republicans felt that “Twelve Years A Slave” should win the Oscar for Best Picture. Neither party had taken a position on the film; The culture war was just so ingrained that people could imagine where their side would end up, just as the Iraq war film “American Sniper” became a conservative favorite and liberal target.
Knowingly or not, viewers who were accepted as volunteers in the culture war. For conservatives in particular, Hollywood’s liberal bias was a useful source of grievance, allowing them to make a cultural sacrifice regardless of how much political and legal power they wielded.
And people increasingly saw their favorite stars as their proxies and champions. When Phil Robertson, the bayou patriarch of the Duck Dynasty, was briefly suspended from the reality show in 2013 for making homophobic and racist statements, one America saw it as political correctness to defeat a beloved star for his opinion. Another America – if they had ever heard of “Duck Dynasty” – saw a fanatic get what it got.
The culture troll-in-chief
In retrospect, all of this was a trailblazer for the Trump era “The Apprentice”.
Politicians, especially those on the right, have tried their hand at the culture war before: George H.W. Bush against “The Simpsons”, Dan Quayle against “Murphy Brown”, Bob Dole against rap. But their forays were rather awkward, deaf and often self-destructive.
But Mr. Trump, a child of television who evolved into a television character as an adult, instinctively understood the media. He has lived here since he gave up his teenage fantasies of running a film studio, swore to “turn show business into real estate” and forged his tabloid personality in the 1980s.
After using the media to build a reality show career and business success myth, and witnessing the onslaught of celebrity in prime time, he knew that culture creates the kind of gut connection that mere politicians can only dream of. Ordinary politics argues: These other people don’t believe what you believe. Culture War Politics argues: These other people don’t love what you love.
So it was in Mr. Trump’s campaign as much as the building of the wall or Islamophobia or “law and order” also about the promise to defend and maintain the culture of his followers against that of the enemy. His rallies combined a concert mood with the theaters of pro wrestling (another genre that Mr. Trump had experience with).
For an audience that had been told for years that showbiz celebrities despised their values, here was one of her Celebrities, a real TV celebrity taking her side. An old right-wing essay Breitbart.com hailed the former NBC presenter as “the first truly cultural presidential candidate” since Patrick J. Buchanan, CNN co-host of “Crossfire,” who declared a “culture war” for “the soul of America” in 1992 Republican National Convention.
Trump’s 2016 RNC didn’t have many high profile politicians, but it did have a “Duck Dynasty” star. As President, he was proud to invite conservative celebrities like Kid Rock and Ted Nugent (who President Obama once referred to as the “subhuman hybrid”) and the newly conservative and curious Kanye West to take pictures in the Oval Office.
The pictures felt like spoils of war, a political end zone dance. And his fiercest celebrity critics often played in his first-on-Hollywood narrative, cursed him at the Tony Awards, or made enemies of him on Twitter.
He praised Western culture as superior because “we write symphonies” and played a white nationalist dog whistle from the orchestra pit. And he threw himself wholeheartedly into fights like the one over ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne,” whose star Roseanne Barr had become a real, vituperative Twitter trumpist and who incorporated her politics into the plot.
He didn’t like previous Presidents who attended or shared the Kennedy Center Honors Spotify playlist something for everyonesee culture as a way to find common ground. He saw it as a battlefield with winners and losers, and a battlefield full of opportunities to spark divisions.
When the premiere of “Roseanne” dominated the ratings, he crowed over it as his team defeated the enemy. “It’s about us!” he told a crowd of followers.
Later, when ABC fired Ms. Barr from the show for a racist tweet, Mr. Trump joined in the argument not to condemn Ms. Barr’s statements, but rather the network of hypocrisy for “TERRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC, to accuse. “It echoed his Twitter attack on the network in 2014 when the sitcom “black-ish” recorded it: “Can you imagine the excitement of a show,” Whiteish “! Racism at its best?”
His stomachache against Hollywood wasn’t just a distraction from bread and circuses. It was political messaging. Deferring Ms. Barr’s dismissal – for comparing a black former Obama aide to a monkey – repeated the right’s fixation on “culture breakup”. The message: your stars will be canceled. Your shows are canceled. you are canceled. Only I am the network manager who can ensure your renewal.
His fixation on reviews (which goes back to “The Apprentice,” the reviews of which he routinely lied about) was in line with his worldview of competition and scorekeeping. Struggles for representation, American identity and the limits of acceptable language, reconciled with messages expressed in more open and ugly ways by Mr. Trump’s campaign and supporters – especially the insidious language of “substitute”.
“Now they’re only doing Ghostbusters with women. What’s up!” was a way of telling men that he would protect them from becoming redundant. “We can say ‘Merry Christmas’ again” was a way of saying, your culture used to be the accepted standard in America, and I’ll bring that back. The enemy wants to demote you to a supportive player. I will make you a star again.
The tug of war continues
Much of this, of course, was in response to the expansion of American history implied by the election of America’s first black president and representative Obama-era pop culture such as black-ish and Hamilton. Often there is (at least in retrospect) the feeling of a new cultural era that begins with a new presidential administration: JFK, New Frontier and youth culture; Reagan, “Family Ties” and “Greed Is Good”.
While the Biden government has not started yet, it doesn’t feel like such a definitive shift right now, but rather with the flag moving to the other side of the center line in an ongoing tug of war. Things can get quieter on the surface. Mr. Biden is not as big a pop culture guy or as ardent culture warrior as the president he is replacing.
But as every storm over a Vogue cover proves, the battle continues. The differences are too deep, the incentives to enlarge them too great. Whether Mr Trump continues to play an important role after leaving office, or whether his review ragetweets are simply echoing in a musty corner of the internet, the ongoing narrative he left us continues.
After all, the secret to a long-running show is that it can survive a cast change.