The Donald Trump Jr. Skittles Fight Is Everything Dumb About the Internet

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Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

A couple days ago, Donald Trump Jr., the elder Trump’s son and an ever-enthusiastic provocateur for his father’s campaign, tweeted this out:

It will not surprise you that people did not take kindly to the comparison. Quickly, the internet’s outrage machinery kicked into gear. Think pieces were published; tweets were tweeted; perhaps most interesting, the Intercept noted that the general expression Trump Jr. used dates back “at least to” Julius Streicher, the publisher of the notoriously anti-Semitic Der Stürmer newspaper, who was executed at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity, in 1946. Streicher, it turns out, made a pretty Trumpian statement about Jews in a children’s book he authored in 1938: “However they disguise themselves, or however friendly they try to be, affirming a thousand times their good intentions to us, one must not believe them. Jews they are and Jews they remain. For our Volk [people] they are poison.”

But wait! cried one corner of the internet. It’s hypocritical for liberals to get all lathered up about this, because online anti-rape activists, you see, used the exact same analogy. This is a reference to a graphic created by a comedian and Photoshop artist named Ben Greele back in 2014, during the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting.

Checkmate, lieberals! Rekt. It’s such a powerful owning that Breitbart wrote it up triumphantly.

Except no — that’s dumb and makes no sense. The only thing this proves is how idiotic and acontextual internet arguments have gotten.

Trump Jr.’s statement came in a very particular context. He was shilling for his dad, who has said certain things about Muslims: namely, that we should exclude all billion-plus of the Muslims outside the U.S. from entering the country until we “figure out” terrorism and, presumably, how to fix it. He’s also said that we should murder the families of people — in this context, Muslims — who are involved in terrorism. The main reason people are upset about the Skittles tweet, then, is that it seems geared at further dehumanizing a group that is, in the U.S., quite vulnerable, and which Trump the elder has gone out of his way to paint, en masse, as monstrous murderers.

“But Greele did it too!” is a dumb rejoinder because the context is entirely different. If Greele had a long history of advocating that men be robbed of their civil rights, or that the families of men who are accused of rape be drone-murdered, then yes, this would be an alarming pattern. But even then, no one in a position of power is openly trying to enact such an openly misandrist agenda. It isn’t a thing that exists. That’s why, setting aside questions about the accuracy of the metaphor, it’s perfectly reasonable to get more upset at the Trump Jr. tweet than the Greele image, in much the same way you might get more upset at a senator using a racial slur than a random homeless guy doing so. Greele was just saying that a small handful of men rape women, and that this (obviously) causes a great deal of worry and pain and trauma among their victims.

Also: Maybe Greele’s analogy was dumb, too, in its own way and its own context! That’s also a possibility. He was responding to the claim that not all men are rapists, a statement which, while objectively true, had taken on a particular reactionary connotation at the time of his M&M’s visual. His rebuttal was … yeah, but some men are rapists, like cuz what about poison M&Ms. Neither the initial claim, that not all men are rapists, nor the rebuttal, that poison M&Ms would be a bummer, actually does much to advance any sort of actual argument or conversation about rape or rape culture or rape victims, or anything else. This is characteristic of these sorts of online culture-war skirmishes, which seem to degenerate very quickly into cacophonies of good-guys-versus-bad-guys cartoonish sloganeering. It’s generally not a good sign when statements that are totally true — most men don’t rape people, on the one hand; some men do rape women, on the other — are taken as powerful signals of your underlying political commitments, and can get you in internet-trouble with certain people just for uttering them.

It’s all so dumb and exhausting, to be honest. When someone like Trump Jr. tweets something like this, we should be able to discuss the claim on its own, in the full light of context from which it arose (or, in this case, oozed). But “this other political group made a similar argument also involving candy” is, unfortunately, the level of intellectual firepower at which 2016 Twitter (and Breitbart) is operating.