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Make America Meme Again

The Rhetoric of the Alt-Right


Heather Suzanne Woods and Leslie A. Hahner

As demonstrated by the 2016 presidential election, memes have become the suasory tactic par excellence for the promotional and recruitment efforts of the Alt-right. Memes are not simply humorous shorthands or pithy assertions, but play a significant role in the machinations of politics and how the public comes to understand and respond to their government and compatriots. Using the tools of rhetorical criticism, the authors detail how memetic persuasion operates, with a particular focus on the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump. Make America Meme Again reveals the rhetorical principles used to design Alt-right memes, outlining the myriad ways memes lure mainstream audiences to a number of extremist claims. In particular, this book argues that Alt-right memes impact the culture of digital boards and broader public culture by stultifying discourse, thereby shaping how publics congeal. The authors demonstrate that memes are a mechanism that proliferate white nationalism and exclusionary politics by spreading algorithmically through network cultures in ways that are often difficult to discern. Alt-right memes thus present a significant threat to democratic praxis, one that can begin to be combatted through a rigorous rhetorical analysis of their power and influence. Make America Meme Again illuminates the function of networked persuasion for scholars and practitioners of rhetoric, media, and communication; political theorists; digital humanists; and anyone who has ever seen, crafted, or proliferated a meme.

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Conclusion: The Coming Meme Battles



The Coming Meme Battles

The 2016 election proved to be the first meme election—the contest announced the presence and power of memes as persuasive mechanisms for a host of audiences. The significance of memes has not abated since that fateful night in November. As the nation presses forward to future elections, memes have been mined as a resource for a host of advocacies, especially those courting young voters. By now, the ubiquity of memes makes them a near standard mode of address for a whole host of right leaning organizations and personalities. Conservatives—from top rated Fox News hosts and contributors, to free market promoting right-wing nonprofits, to sitting US Senators—have all appropriated the Alt-right’s preferred mode of persuasion.1 While memes are comparatively deployed less by the institutional left, firms like NextGen, a liberal data management and social media firm, and far left advocacy groups have increased meme deployments to sway voters and influence cultural thought.2 As these brief memetic campaigns indicate, memes have become a crucial form of address in political advocacy. To that end, political and social campaigns must use memes effectively and broadly as part of an overarching strategy. Memes will continue to be a persuasive tool shifting politics and public culture in monumental ways. Given this, deployments of memes must be examined in their specificity and uniqueness. Using our skills as rhetorical←211 | 212→ critics, in this text, we have analyzed Alt-right memes to show how these images stultified...

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