Descent into Donaldmania: A look at /r/The_Donald
I’ve been reading every post on the front page of /r/The_Donald for just over 100 days now. For those who are lucky enough not to know, The_Donald is a subreddit which describes itself as “a never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.” When Trump was elected, it had around 300,000 subscribers – now it has more than twice as many. It is home to Trump’s most ardent supporters, as anything less than absolute devotion to the president will result in a ban from the moderators. According to The_Donald’s own rules, racism will also warrant a ban, but that didn’t stop user “TheMormanTrump” from “Muslim rapefugees raping thousands of kids is a-okay to the Brits” consequence-free. The_Donald is the third-most active subreddit on the site, and has already begun mobilizing its subscribers for the upcoming midterms.
The_Donald stresses that Donald Trump has no flaws. One has to think that mentality will become gospel among Trump’s remaining supporters in 2020. You can only hold your nose for so long before getting used to the stench. When Trump’s supporters write “no flaws,” they mean zero. On the pages of The_Donald, Trump is more infallible than the Pope. He even has a nickname, GEOTUS, short for “God Emperor of the United States.” One highly upvoted comment argued that typos in Trump’s tweets – such as his constant misspelling of the word “counsel” – were intentional ploys to garner more media coverage. When Trump was caught posing as publicist “John Miller,” user “antifauberalles” for masterfully “trolling the media.” Even lying isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. “It’s like a kindergartener watching a neurosurgeon work,” BirthRight1776 on Trump’s political strategy, which is often referred to as “4D chess.” For The_Donald users, Trump’s presidency isn’t about Supreme Court picks or tax reform – it’s about him.
Perhaps Trump’s greatest trait, to this group of his most fervent supporters, is the very thing that makes him hated by so many: his indecorousness. The subreddit emulates him in that respect. When a photo of a crying child at the border broke the nation’s heart, the subreddit sidebar image was changed to a photoshopped in which Trump stood next to her with an ice cream cone, captioned “Two Scoops!” Corey Lewandowski’s infamous “womp womp” response to a July 20th detailing ICE detaining a child with Down syndrome was enshrined as a subreddit flair that users could put next to their username. John McCain’s death was memorialized on the subreddit’s front page with a Ben Garrison political cartoon depicting McCain’s downed fighter jet falling into Hell. Dismissing this as mere trolling ignores what The_Donald really is: a group that knows it is on the wrong side of history but chooses to remain there anyway. A group that likes to play the villain and revels in being hated. A bucket full of crabs that, rather than see themselves elevated, would drag everyone else to the bottom with them.
With the mindset that Trump can do no wrong, it’s easy to see why The_Donald is a haven for all stripes of conspiracy theorists. From the Deep State to the Fake News Media to the Mueller investigation to the tech companies to Democratic obstructionist losers, Trump is thwarted at every turn by forces outside his control, and never by his own error. The narrative of persecution extends to their own lives, where this group can feel as though liberals are to blame for a changing world where they are no longer the insiders. With its unique dialect and homogeneity of thought, The_Donald is the one place they can be insiders. It is a tight-knit, insular community that provides a genuine sense of camaraderie for its subscribers.
So why have I been torturing myself for the past 100 days by delving into The_Donald? I wish I could say it was in preparation to write this article, but that’s not why. I wish I could say it was an anthropological mission to learn about Trump supporters as an insider in order to bridge the gap, but that isn’t why either. Nor can I say it was an attempt to break out of my personal echo chamber and see how the other half gets the news. The truth is, it’s like watching a car crash: I shouldn’t, but I just can’t turn away.
Yet, despite my id-driven reason for being there, the media doesn’t pay enough attention to The_Donald. While Donald Trump himself may not browse The_Donald, memes originating from the subreddit make their way to his tweets, such as the infamous CNN wrestling GIF and, more recently, a video of people scoffing at Trump’s chances of being elected set to dopey music. Talking points from The_Donald also have a way of bubbling up to the surface, such as the canard about white genocide in South Africa, which made it all the way to Tucker Carlson Tonight. From Fox News, it made it to the president’s . But most importantly, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is and the kind of loyalty demanded on the pages of The_Donald is becoming the party’s norm. Republican politicians have begun playing more and more to the fringes. Although it only accounts for one percent of Trump voters,The_Donald provides a window into where some of the Republican Party already is, and where much of it is likely headed.