Donald Trump Jr. and the Divorced Dad meme

Donald Trump’s eldest son has spawned a new meme that isn’t going to die.

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Donald Trump Jr. has long been considered the black sheep of the Trump family. The first born and namesake of the family patriarch, Don has always preferred the solitude of a shooting range or the great outdoors to his family’s typical cocktail parties and red carpet events in Midtown and Mar-A-Lago.

His lone-wolf qualities have been magnified since his father’s presidency began, as he’s become known for committing the most outrageous missteps (such as admitting to meeting with Russians about anti-Clinton intelligence) and, as a result, attracting the greatest acclaim from the alt-right. Criticism from the left for his Russia dealings has helped turn the eldest Trump son into an alt-right mouthpiece whose internet fandom makes sure his content almost always goes viral. In GQ’s profile last month, Junior is framed as a man who may be a clueless buffoon, but whose internet presence has made him an alt-right superstar.

However, this tells a more positive version of the online reality. On March 14th, Junior’s wife Vanessa Haydon Trump filed for divorce, sending out unsurprising shockwaves (a president’s child going through a divorce is practically unheard of). But, rather than just add another scandal to the Trump presidency, this divorce announcement did something far more painful to Junior’s reputation: It took what little positives he could glean from the 18 months of his father’s tenure – ie his internet stardom – and turned it against him. Don Jr. was no longer the President’s goofiest, internet-popular, dim-witted son. He had become the poster boy of the Divorced Dad meme.

 

A post shared by Donald Trump Jr. (@donaldjtrumpjr) on

Dad memes are rife online. “Dad bods”, “yer da” and “dad joke” memes are ubiquitous on the social media site, criticising largely middle-aged, white men who the fit the “dad” archetype (regardless of whether they have children).

The Divorced Dad came about as an iteration of the “yer da is handling the divorce well” meme – mocking men who look or act like they are in the throes of a midlife crisis. The Divorced Dad is, of course, middle-aged and white, but also a social media user. He posts pictures of his kids with performative captions to one-up his ex-wife. He is often seen wearing a tightly-fitted leather jacket. He does stereotypically manly things, such as grilling, hunting, motorcycle-riding, or lifting heavy weights. And, most importantly, the Divorced Dad is painfully unaware, not realising that his audience knows he’s in crisis mode.

Don Jr.’s post-divorce social media presence is and was the Divorced Dad distilled. Since March, he’s posted all of the following: gym pics, dating pics, videos of him chopping wood. Pictures of fish he’s caught, pictures inside ATVs, screenshots of praise he’s received. As Huffington Post journalist Ashley Feinberg noted, he began “furiously posting photos of his children” on his Instagram. And almost immediately, his online presence became the perfect curation of a meme begging to be born.

Of course, content from Junior’s various social media accounts began to be meme-ified, appearing all over Twitter to create the Divorced Dad image he can only fail to escape.

“The ‘me stuff’ instagram story collection donald trump jr has decided to make public,” Twitter user @mekosoff said, “is the most Divorced Guy Going Through It thing i’ve ever seen.” User @zlingman responded to a series of screenshots of Don Jr. at the gym with “divorced instagram dad donald jr is the silver lining” to the Trump Senior presidency. @FilmBart joined in on the same tweet, replying “there was never a man more going through a divorce than Don Jr.”

Tweets as recently as the last few days include comments such as “A little birdy says they saw @DonaldJTrumpJr wiggling his lil' divorced dad butt on the floor of the oval office” or criticising his home as a “sad divorced dad’s apartment.” In a direct reply to Don Jr. tweeting that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s retirement was “lit”, one user stated, “You saying ‘lit’ is the most divorced dad thing ever.”

The meme has inevitably grown beyond the realm of Donald Jr. Now a quick search will yield you Divorced Dad dinners (microwaved, cubed hot dogs), Divorced Dad brunches (chain restaurant pancakes and chicken wings), Divorced Dad shows (Man Vs Food, Pawn Stars), and more, displaying the rich, and popular, tapestry inspired by the president’s eldest. And while most memes die within a matter of weeks, the Divorced Dad meme has lived on. This could be down to the universality of the divorced father, but I can’t help but think Junior’s capacity to create new, mockable content has played an important role in this particular meme’s endless regeneration.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.