September 21, 2016

The poisonous literary tradition of Trump, Jr.’s Skittles


The offending meme, offending me. Via Esquire.

Offending meme, offending me.

This past Monday afternoon, boy-tyrant-in-waiting Donald Trump, Jr. shared a Skittle meme on Twitter. But it wasn’t just his afternoon snack that he had on the brain, it was something a bit more… violently racist. That’s because the meme in question (pictured at right) compares Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles seeded with poison.

Now, we could spend a bunch of time debating the merits of Tropical versus Wild Berry Skittles, less time debating the rather clear supremacy of Original Skittles, and probably no time debating the self-evident lunacy of Donald, Jr.’s commitment to this deadly Skittle comparison. But for now, let’s stick to the literary aspects of this story — which are as dark as a world without Skittles.

While Trump, Sr. may have read up to thirty-nine books in his day and claims to have read the Bible more than anybody, Donald, Jr. and the Skittle meme are trafficking in a literary tradition that dates back to the Third Reich. As Rebecca Fishbein writes over at Gothamist, the Skittle comparison owes much to an anti-semitic children’s story popular in Hitler’s Germany. The shortest possible rendition of the story—no less reprehensible for the abridgment—goes something like this:

“Look, Franz, human beings in this world are like the mushrooms in the forest. There are good mushrooms and there are good people. There are poisonous, bad mushrooms and there are bad people. And we have to be on our guard against bad people just as we have to be on guard against poisonous mushrooms. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, mother,” Franz replies. “I understand that in dealing with bad people trouble may arise, just as when one eats a poisonous mushroom. One may even die!”

“And do you know, too, who these bad men are, these poisonous mushrooms of mankind?” the mother continued.

Franz slaps his chest in pride:

“Of course I know, mother! They are the Jews! Our teacher has often told us about them.”

Trump, Jr.’s nod to this toxic literary tradition was in reaction to last weekend’s bombings in New York and New Jersey. Not to be outdone, the Republican presidential candidate offered a literary act of his own, a sort of Dadaist stream of consciousness, a radical hollowing-out of meaning:

“I’m not using the term Muslims. I’m saying you’re going to have to profile. We’re gonna have to start profiling, and it’s, you know, I don’t know if it’s that bad, but certainly it’s not a wonderful thing,” he said. “But we have a country to keep safe and we’re not going to keep our country safe, you see this happening, and you know and I know it’s going to get worse.”

If you think you can’t suffer this terrible world for even a minute longer, please, friend, appreciate the fact that the man who took the picture of Skittles used for the meme told the BBC on Tuesday that he himself is a refugee. Indeed, the BBC reports that photographer David Kittos is a Greek-Cypriot who became a refugees in 1974 because of Turkey’s military occupation of Cyprus. He is now a British citizen and heartily anti-Trump. A faint yet perceptible rainbow after the rain.

Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.