Downtime

MAGA Thirst

What are the Trump-loving men of Instagram telling us with their shirtless selfies?

Photo illustration: Shirtless men, a MAGA hat, and the Trumpstagram logo.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images; George Frey/Getty Images; Petr_Joura/iStock; Oat_Phawat/iStock.

Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.

Body tensed, farmer’s tan visible, mouth slightly agape, Jacob Wohl towers triumphantly over the shallow end of the pool, waxed like a retro 90210 idol. The photo neatly captures the hot air of young male #MAGA swagger, transparent in both its chosen-one thirst and its crushing insecurity. The caption: “Think bigger.”

Wohl, 20, is known primarily for his rapid-fire, cartoonishly jingoistic replies to the president’s tweets (“The Supreme Court understands that President Trump is the FINAL AUTHORITY on who comes to our great nation!”) as well as a former “teen hedge fund manager” who was accused of financial improprieties. He’s attracted a sizable following on Twitter with his lizard-brain conservatism, but for me, the purest dose of dystopian pleasure actually comes from his Instagram account. There, in between videos of him firing semi-automatic weapons and Bernie memes, you can find a gallery of self-portraits that feel typical of any young man self-chronicling on the internet. Many do not include shirts. All contain hard stares and hilarious captions. (Pool selfie: “If you got it, you got it.”) My favorite of all may be a spectacularly filtered gym #progress shot, veins protruding and posture contorted for maximum upper-body circumference.

If Wohl’s tweets and general internet persona seem designed explicitly for the approval of his personal dad and demigod Donald Trump, his ’grams show that his hunger for validation extends in even more directions. But the two also seem related—a disquieting sense of genetic “restoration” inherent in his politics is part of the display, and even while his self-presentation suggests a clear fragility, it also gives the impression that Wohl is crowning the ascendance of ideal specimens like himself. The spectacle is both sad-funny and, from that perspective, kind of horrifying.

Wohl is not alone. Paul Joseph Watson, the Infowars YouTube star and prince of the Trump social swamp, commands an audience of 100,000 on Instagram mostly with pouty, scruffy selfies and screenshots of himself that ostensibly promote his videos. Although his shirt stays on, his eyes implore the camera with no less thirst. He favors cockeyed expressions that do little to mask their craving for plaudits. I’m particularly charmed when he posts custom fan art of himself like a royal accepting gifts of portraiture from his court, but his anguished selfies are the feed’s true attraction, suggesting a desire for us to recognize the bruised interiority of a sensitive culture warrior at constant battle with the libs.

Mike Cernovich, famous for alt-right Twitter trolling and encouraging men to adopt a “gorilla mindset” in their dealings with women (and all else), also has made his Instagram into a well-stocked library of his jaw line. He leans heavily into #dadlife these days, really its own category of right-wing Insta thirst, but he still manages to get in a little flamethrower realness and those “aww, but also, those legs” likes. And though he has settled down, he can’t help but throw back to his heyday as a babe-smashing alpha, including wistful reposts of five-year-old photos that remind the other males of his pectorals and the prime female he got to mate with him.

And while we’re on the subject of dad thirst, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Donald Trump Jr., whose 1.2 million Instagram followers get a regular stream of questionably angled selfies and rugged American lifestyle portraits that could fill their own #MAGA masculinity catalog. The highlight may, however, may be a workout shot he once posted to his Instagram story, helpfully preserved by a horrified Twitter user, which he emblazoned “Donald Pump.” Cry laughing emoji!

Finally, here as in everything, no one does thirst quite like gay men. Lucian Wintrich, the Gateway Pundit writer, poses regularly with his shirt both open and closed, but he also may have engineered an early peak to this strain of right-wing vanity with his notorious #Twinks4Trump photo spread, prominently featured on his Instagram during the Trump campaign. The photos collapsed several worlds of gay male body idolization, ethnonationalism, and iconic campaign merch into one perfectly lurid display.

These accounts and their preoccupations seem to speak to a dynastic sense among these Trumpian types of their rightful place atop the social order. They tout physical primes and a very curated (white) masculinity that’s taking America back, one deeply hungry photo at a time. They are also, frankly, one of the funnier and more pathetic ways to process the horrors these people are peddling. And that is exactly what their loyal audiences do. As the top comment on a recent Laguna Beach shirtless shot on Wohl’s account laments, “hate his politics, but damn he’s hot.”

Read more Trumpstagram here.