Reviving Dead Memes Won’t Save Trump From Himself

As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day. Last week, in the midst of an impeachment inquiry into his actions as President, Donald Trump tweeted a video meme about establishment political rival Joe Biden and his family. But unlike the vast swath of Trump’s tweets that haunt our timelines on the daily, this video was—surprisingly—really funny. The question then is how did Donald Trump make a meme that was not only funny but also seems to have caught his establishment rival in a gaffe?

The scope of the impeachment inquiry against the President is narrowed in on the contents of a phone call he had with Ukranian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. During this call, the President asked for a political favor in exchange for aid in the form of weapons. Trump more specifically asked Zelensky to investigate Biden’s family ties to cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike. While Trump denies the quid pro quo nature of the conversation, the released transcript of the call suggests otherwise. Spinning the impeachment narrative to his liking, President Trump has since steered talking points towards the Biden family’s supposed corruption, and treating his own actions as morally justified.

Following this narrative, on Oct.2 just after 5 p.m., the President posted a video on Twitter. The video begins with Joe Biden being asked by reporters if he had ever talked to his son, Hunter Biden, about overseas business dealings like those Trump asked Zelensky to investigate. Biden denies this claim, and the video fades to Chad Kroeger, lead singer of ‘90s Canadian rock band Nickelback, holding a framed photo and demanding the viewer to “look at this photograph.” The footage, taken from Nickelback’s music video for their song “Photograph,” is altered to show the framed photo from the video as a real photo of Joe and Hunter Biden golfing with a Ukraine oil executive.

The tweet garnered hundreds of thousands of likes before being taken down due to copyright infringement by Twitter (Nickelback has yet to release an official statement on the matter). The short-lived saga of the video lasted less than a day, but nonetheless had Twitter laughing if not with the President, then at least at him. 

The humor from this video does not seem to come from the actual video itself, but the absurdity of it existing in the first place. In attempting to use a meme to cast a light on the dealings of a political rival, Trump has also attempted to make light of the very situation that has caused the impeachment inquiry against him. Denial and blame-shifting are the President’s preferred methods of handling the allegations against him and packaging these strategies into an easily digestible twenty second meme bolsters their credibility. In effect, the President is saying that the claims against him are so obviously false and misdirected that it can be proven in under half a minute.

While the video may try to accomplish this mission in proper Trump fashion, it does not respond to any actual issues already in place. Instead, it tries to create new ones under the guise of being tangentially related. The Ukrainian oil executive is never named in the video, simply having the title of “Ukraine Oil Executive” plastered above his head, and says nothing as to the crimes being alleged against the President. In directing attention to the supposed corruption of the Biden family, Trump is trying to sink Biden’s ship before his own succumbs to the rising waters.

This plays into the larger ethos of the Trump administration—attempting to convince the public that large, complex issues can be easily understood and their causes quickly determined. In twenty seconds, we are led to believe that Trump’s call with Zelenksy was an actual concern that United States officials were acting in a corrupt manner. In reality, the President is on defense mode and digging up five-year-old memes to do the work of misdirection for him.

Nicolas Perez is a fourth year literary journalism major at UCI and the Opinion Co-Editor for the New University. He can be reached at naperez1@uci.edu.