The way we talk about politics has changed. An increasing number of Americans get their news from the internet and social media, which means many of us are experiencing the Trump presidency not through newspapers and TV news, but through short videos, screenshots of text, heated cable news yell-fests shared over and over again, and, most of all, memes.
Since Donald Trump descended that escalator into the middle of America’s political arena, memes have provided a way to cope with an emotionally turbulent time, denigrate one’s ideological foes, and make occasionally resonant points. Viral moments can be fleeting, but they can also reinforce or upend someone’s views. They’re jokes, but usually serve to underscore something that Americans take seriously. The future history books recounting all of this could consist of only memes and not miss a beat.
So what memes would make those history books? We tried to boil it down to a top 20. These are some of the most viral in terms of likes and retweets, but we’re also making allowances for the significance of the moments the memes are spoofing, how well they encapsulate Trump’s presidency, and, of course, their pure comedic value. These are the ones you'll remember, even if you don't want to.
20. Trump's Space Force
Representing the perfect marriage between Trump’s childlike desires and his penchant for the lofty and unnecessary (wall, military parade—you get the picture), his proposed idea for a Space Force was an easy target. The joke turned into patches, mugs, T-shirts, a beer, and tons of other merch.
19. Fox News Not Covering Trump Scandals
The underlying point, of course, is that Fox News loves to cover scandals, except those that involve the network’s beloved president. This meme really broke through when Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort respectively pled guilty to various crimes on the same day in August, but it’s made countless comebacks as more Trump transgressions come to light.
18. The Trump Sinkholes
When a sinkhole appeared in front of Mar-a-Lago in May 2017, the memes practically wrote themselves. Then another opened up in front of the White House exactly a year later, and the irony was lost on no one. The joke is very environmentally friendly, as you can recycle it every time a sinkhole appears in DC.
17. Taco Trucks on Every Corner
Arriving shortly before the 2016 election, this one is significant because it was one of the earliest meme-able one-liners of the Trump era. Originally voiced by the founder of Latinos for Trump as an argument against immigration, it became a rallying cry for people who believe that diversity and immigration strengthen the country rather than weaken it. Also, the internet loves taco content.
16. Stormy Daniels's ‘Forbes’ Magazine Spanking
This was the absolute rock bottom in the Stormy Daniels saga (so far), and meme-ing it was basically the only way to cope with the mental image. Let's just move on.
15. Me at the Beginning of 2016 vs. Me at the End of 2016
Simply put, 2016 wrecked America. This meme provided the anguished masses with a simple template to express their Trump exhaustion. And this was before the Trump administration even began.
There were hats, a parody website, and a Chrome extension that changed “Trump” to “Drumpf.” With a Last Week Tonight segment that broke HBO viewing records, John Oliver enlisted viewers to collectively dunk on the candidate, who was at that point still something many people regarded as a joke. They showed up, Drumpf memes in tow. (It didn’t work.)
13. Trump's Executive Orders
Kicking off a presidency by signing a bunch of executive orders is typical. Panning each document in front of the camera, however, is pure Trumpian flair. This cemented the fact that a narcissist now ran the country and inspired a meme that would come back time and time again. It shows Trump as a buffoon in search of praise, the purest expression of his character—and also reminds us that this guy does have the power to do an awful lot.
12. Chris Christie Regretting His Trump Endorsement
Many people experienced a moment when the gravity of the Trump situation really hit them. It appeared to hit Chris Christie live on camera not long after endorsing the man himself in 2016. Watching New Jersey’s tough guy mull it over in real time was relatable, a bit satisfying, primed for virality, and a tidy illustration of anti-Trump Republican strategist Rick Wilson’s contention that “everything Trump touches dies.”
When a senior official in the Trump administration wrote the anonymous “resistance” op-ed in the New York Times, the president didn’t mince his words. The one-word tweet contained endless opportunities for spoofing, and because new evidence of Trump camp crimes is constantly being uncovered, this meme keeps living and evolving.
10. The Glowing Orb
The orb-touching trio—Trump, Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—looked more like a group of Disney villains than world leaders. The image recalled enough pop culture references to make this a meme that had something for everyone, whether you’re into Macbeth, Star Wars, Looney Toons, or Harry Potter. And on a more serious level, it symbolized the Trump administration’s absolute loyalty to the Saudi royal family, which has become more sinister in the months since.
9. 'I Really Don’t Care, Do U?'
Every stitch of this viral moment was built for the Resistance. At the height of outrage over Trump’s family separation policy and the resulting detention camps for migrant children, Melania wore the fact that she didn’t care on her sleeve (well, back) in a fashion choice so bizarre it was hard to believe it wasn’t intentional. It was met with not only memes, but fundraisers launched by people who really, really do care. The whole episode underscored that the Trump administration seemed more callous than a typical GOP White House.
8. Trump Staring into the Eclipse
Everyone knew not to look at the eclipse without the proper eyewear. People practically shouted it from the rooftops. But Trump did it anyway, of course. It was a moment that captured so much about him as a candidate and president—if he really wants to do something, he’ll do it, even, or especially, if it's obviously a bad idea.
7. The Gorilla Channel
A bit of fake text that was shared around the internet both by those who knew it was a joke and those who didn’t, this showed how difficult it is for even smart people to separate fact from fiction these days. The process of believing it, discovering it wasn’t real, and then realizing how ridiculous it was that it sounded plausible was a unique rollercoaster.
6. “ I...worked on this story for a year...and...he just...he tweeted it out”
When Donald Trump Jr. admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer in an attempt to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, reporter Jared Yates Sexton went on a viral tweetstorm bemoaning that he had essentially gotten scooped by the subject he was investigating. Sexton wasn’t particularly close to breaking any news, but his tweet resonated because of how often and nonchalantly the Trump camp incriminates itself.
5. Barack Obama and Joe Biden Pranking Trump
Ahead of Trump’s White House arrival, dreaming up these imaginary conversations between Joe Biden and Barack Obama was a soothing pastime during a time of fear and uncertainty. Plus, they indulged two important things—the duo’s already meme-able playfulness and the fact that everyone just loves trolling Trump.
4. Whatever Is Happening Under Trump’s Tweets
What even... are these? If you’re looking for the worst memes on the internet, check out Trump’s replies. They’re coming from both sides (and likely Russian bots) and are straight-up horrific by meme standards, mirroring the mess that has been social media for the past three years.
3. Sean Spicer Hiding in the Bushes
Trump was averaging five false statements per day during Sean Spicer’s tenure as press secretary (the president has been even more prone to falsehood lately), but the nadir of his career was no doubt the time he was reportedly hiding in the buses on White House grounds with his staff after FBI Director James Comey was suddenly fired by Trump. This was later corrected by the Washington Post to clarify he was "among" some bushes, not "in" them, but the legend spread nonetheless.
Trump is awful with words, but he reached a new level of nonsense when he tweeted “covfefe,” a non-word with no explanation. It was spoofed by celebrities, Merriam-Webster, roadside diner signs advertising “hot covfefe,” and what felt like every person online. Meaningless? Sure. Bleak? Yeah, OK. An encapsulation of what life is like today? Definitely.
1. The Lawn-Mowing Boy
When 11-year-old Frank Giacco fulfilled his dream by mowing the White House lawn, he changed the meme landscape surrounding the POTUS forever. The now-iconic photo that resulted had it all: bright colors that made it unmissable on social media feeds, a simple composition perfect for spoofing, and Trump yelling while looking anything but presidential.
Trump appearing to scream nonsense at a good-willed child in front of the White House roses was a demonstration of the absurdity of his presidency. But what secures the top spot for this meme is its staying power. This photo has made its way into every Donald Trump moment that’s happened since, and it’s been funny every time. It’s how we’ll remember him: mouth open, in a baggy suit, saying something that no one can understand.
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