Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Fox News in the Donald Trump era has become a demoralizing infinity mirror: a network watching the president watching the network watching the president. Its hosts, with certain exceptions, spend their days pandering to the prejudices and resentments of America’s least-informed shut-ins, and the least informed shut-in of them all is President Donald Trump.
This grim recursivity plays out on the network’s terrible Instagram account, where the network proves its ability to be stupid across all platforms. Like the mother ship cable network, Fox News’ Instagram is focused on flattering the president’s ego and pre-emptively discrediting the Mueller investigation while riling Trump’s base with snapshots of hated Democrats and insinuations of liberal hypocrisy. (It occasionally posts photos of cute animals and children too; this is still Instagram, after all.) The apparent goal is to elicit some direct response from Trump and his inner circle. As the Trumps are very vain, they often take the bait.
The network’s Instagram presence is as basic as you might expect from a network geared toward the rotary-phone demographic. Its Instagram philosophy seems to be “Pictures aren’t worth 1,000 words; words are worth 1,000 words, and also 1,000 words is too many words.” Its signature post format features quotes rendered in sans-serif text on a solid background, alongside an image of the speaker. (MSNBC is also fond of quote-grams, but MSNBC is also much less popular and influential than Fox; CNN’s Instagram feed is blessedly focused on wordless visuals.) Slapping text onto a photo and recirculating it is a glorious internet tradition—it is basically the definition of a meme. But Fox News’ Instagram denatures that tradition by 1) avoiding any of the absurd or witty juxtapositions that make memes great; 2) failing to transform either the image or the quotation in any meaningful sense; 3) serving as propaganda for a malicious idiot. And thus, they are the main factory of memes for the witless, created and reposted by people who are too cautious or prominent to go full Pepe.
Whoever is making the quotestagrams seems to be very lazy. Half the time the quotes are tweets from notable people, and also from Mike Huckabee:
Other times, they spotlight things said on Fox News programs:
Occasionally, the quote-grams will come out of left field, such as this post, from Monday morning, featuring a quote from a recent Guardian feature on the filmmaker David Lynch:
As you might expect, many of the Instagram comments on this particular post come from people who are clearly unfamiliar with Lynch’s deeply weird oeuvre. (My favorite comment, from @caroleegross, reads, “Good for you David. Nice to hear the truth now and then. Democrat Obstruction folks wouldn’t recognize the truth if they tripped over it. God Bless you. 🇺🇸✝️🙏👍👏.” Let’s send this woman a DVD of Eraserhead.)
The best bad Fox News Instagram posts are of the “Great job, Mr. President! God bless our wise leader!” variety. These are usually direct quotes from Trump. There are a lot of these posts, and I believe that they are aimed directly at Trump and his inner circle. Trump and his family members love to repost these Trump-fluffing semimemes on their own Instagram accounts. Donald J. Trump Jr. is a prime example. His Instagram account is a haven for self-congratulatory regrams of lame Fox News quotestagrams:
(“FACT!” Trump Jr. noted in his caption.)
Here, he reposted a Fox News Instagram post that parroted his father’s dubious boast that his first 17 months in office were the most successful in presidential history:
(“#winning,” Trump Jr. noted.)
Eric Trump too has been known to repost Fox-grams of his father looking and talking tough:
(“#micdrop,” Eric Trump noted. I love the Trump tendency to pretend that the president’s blustery, ill-informed remarks are the stuff of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.)
And then there’s Donald Trump himself, whose own Instagram account is an exhausting cross-platform feedback loop filled with reposts of Fox’s own Instagram reposts of his own statements and tweets.
I cannot imagine any other president or presidential candidate so frequently and unabashedly reveling in their own (bad!) quotes and their adherents’ flatteries of said quotes in quite this way, but Trump has always been happy to be his own hype man. As a real estate developer whose companies often filed for bankruptcy protection, Trump made people believe that he was rich and successful by constantly telling everyone how rich and successful he was. As president, he has tried to make people believe that he is popular and successful by endlessly claiming the same. Both Fox News and Donald Trump have mastered the dark art of hypnotically afactual repetition, of saying something stupid and wrong over and over and over again until the world comes to believe that it is actually intelligent and right. Staring into Fox News’ Instagram account, and finding it staring right back at you via endless reflection through the Trumps’ feeds, serves to remind us that propaganda doesn’t need to be clever—it just needs to be consistent.
Read more Trumpstagram here.