Electing a John Wayne Meme

I’m still trying to rationalize the election and why so many people, decent people, kind people, moral people, could cast a vote for Donald Trump who showed in so many ways that he is none of those things. All we know about him really is what came out of his mouth which at times was vulgar and all the rest (no need to rehash what didn’t ultimately matter).


I think this election is a hearkening back. I miss the 1960’s in terms of my personal life. I miss the time in my life before my parents divorce. That was a time when life was orderly. Things were OK and others were not and there were clear lines on the surface of things that for a kid made us all feel safe, that the world was understandable place with rules and norms and a way of doing things that was reassuring rather than jarring.

Enter the late sixities, well not that late in retrospect, before JFK’s assassination was the first seismic jolt to the normalcy of our little WASP world in the form of the Cuban Missile crisis, then the assassinations, civil rights, Vietnam.

Some memes stand out to me from those days and perhaps one of the central ones was the western. Memes for you oldsters out there my age and older is defined below.

(accessed on 11/13/2016 – http://www.urbandictionary.com)

1 : an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)

2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable

Westerns were central to who men wanted to be back in the sixties. As a little boy we all had our cowboy boots, our hats, our die cast cap pistols and leather holsters that we used to shoot each other on the suburban sidewalks.

Media portrayed the western as a glorified time of American manhood. John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke, Ben Cartwright of Bonanza, Crocodile Dundee, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon) are a few of the patriarchal characters that we all believed our Dads to be, or wished they were.

Us little kids loved those men. They were strong, tough, fair, kind, tender, and they always won. (remember win, win, win until you’re tired of winning).

Ronald Reagan understood the meme before meme became a word. Donald Trump understands the meme today; hell, even Putin understands the meme riding shirtless on horses. Hillary couldn’t compete with John Wayne. She raised her voice in rallies and sounded like my Mom late at night when I broke curfew. John Wayne wouldn’t raise his voice, he’d lower it.

For all the young, tech-savvy people in the Clinton campaign, they should have hired an older guy like me to advise them. They needed to pop the meme bubble of Donald Trump. Clinton needed to have her moment denouncing the meme, “I knew John Wayne and you’re no John Wayne.”

Trump may or may not be John Wayne but the older white people who voted for him wanted a Clint Eastwood as president. In this era of fear of everything from radicals and the rise of foreign powers to the internal fight from “crumbling” religious establishments, white people missed their John Wayne meme. There is no John Wayne and the attempt to replace it in the media with the likes of Katniss Everdeen hasn’t taken hold yet, at least not with males and older white Americans. A teenage, female John Wayne isn’t convincing to those of us who watched our heroes punch out a bad guy. Girls are who our memes protected.

Bullying as a national topic of concern today is a reinforcing of the meme, it reinforced the need for a Trump who many people saw not as a bully but as an anti-bully. Remember the political correctness thing, he was not a bully but a courageous truth teller who stood up to media bullies and foreign bullies and cultural bullies. The western meme says you step up to the bully and punch them in the nose and that is what Trump did. It also says that a bully on the right side, is not a bully at all but a hero. (topic for a future post) Facing a down a bully you don’t run crying to mom, you sure as heck don’t run crying to dad. You step up and throw the first punch and take your licks.

I think Clinton’s Campaign Team missed some key points in this election.

  1. There were not enough millennials willing to vote to elect her.
  2. People feel bullied by the changes, the shootings, the bombings, the beheading. And Donald stepped up and said, “I’m your huckleberry”.
  3. Clinton is not a male archetype and she failed to convince old white guys she could go toe-to-toe with Trump/Putin/Jinping.

Given the fact that enough older white people and perhaps younger white people wanted a John Wayne meme for president means there was no way a grandma playing the woman card could win without all the votes of people who did not grow up with the John Wayne meme.

I tend to think millennials sunk her ship a lot more purposefully than Comey did but in the end I think election of a comforting, if flawed, patriarch in the face of all the horror we’ve seen in the world over the past eight years should not be a surprise and perhaps, unlike Mike Dukakis, Hillary needed to climb into a tank and fire off a few rounds.