Online only - 31 October 2016
Politics are never far from the law school. A collective of opinionated students learning about the workings of law is bound to produce political discourse, and with the US presidential election looming the topic du jour is American politics. This year’s campaign has been unique in many ways. Americans are divided, yet they are united in their dislike of the two candidates. However, this week US politics came to affect me personally: you see, I’m a ‘rare Pepe’ collector.
Clinton isn’t entirely wrong though. It’s true that some anons create Pepes that are symbols of hate. Dylan Roof Pepe, smug SS officer Pepe, Stalin Pepe, Mao Pepe, there are plenty out there. The problem is Clinton has failed to understand the online world she has wholesale condemned. Mao Pepe could be a symbol of hate, or he could be used to mock Maoists. Smug Pepe could be used to bait an actual white supremacist, or to bait another anon. Pepe is many things to many people.
In the lead up to Clinton declaring half of American Trump supporters “deplorables”, Pepe had been co-opted by the Alt-Right as one of their pro-Trump memes. But Clinton’s attempt to undermine Trump by declaring Pepe a hate symbol is a non-sequitur. Pepe had lived on in many forms outside Trump-posting, but according to Clinton, arguably millions of worldwide Pepe fans are on par with Hitler. Really makes you think.
Many laughed at Clinton’s declaration and the mainstream media pandering that followed (including CNN allegedly producing a fake KKK Pepe). But she also provoked the Alt-Right. They embraced the mainstream publicity and her attempt to ostracise Pepe from polite society. The contempt for elitism that has been a factor in the rise of populist politics worldwide is paralleled online in the deliberate antagonism the Alt-Right engage in. Within hours of Clinton’s “explainer” hundreds of nazi-Pepes were produced. Offensive Pepes were worn as a badge of honour, a slap in the face to normies amounting to deliberate self-fulfilment of Clinton’s prophecy. Satire or not it shows how disconnected mainstream politicians are from the groups they criticise. Moreover, if we went back in time 10 years and said a presidential frontrunner will condemn her opponent for using an allegedly nazi cartoon frog as an unofficial campaign symbol, odds are people might question your well-being. Welcome to 2016.
Will Pepe will rise again? Probably, he’s a big guy. Will Clinton condemn Wojak, Spurdo Spärde and Gondola as accomplices? We just don’t know. What I’m more concerned about is that Clinton sought to exclude and isolate her opponents from acceptable society, not as reasonable people who hold a different view and sometimes frog-post, but as extremists who deserve no quarter. Vive Pepe!
Anon is a student of the JD at MLS