Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. Richard Drew/AP
The gorilla, who was killed last Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo to save a 3-year old child who fell into its enclosure, was named Harambe. The name comes from the word “Harambee,” which, in Swahili, means, “Let us all pull together.”
This week, the story of that gorilla, and how it strangely found its way into the political conversation, was about as un-Harambe as it gets. But that should not come as a surprise.
There were all the initial questions raised by the story, which themselves were ripe for discussion and online argument: How in the world did this child fall in a gorilla pit? Were the parents negligent? Did the gorilla have to be killed? Should someone be charged? And in all of this, should we reexamine whether it’s actually moral to keep animals like gorillas in captivity?
That would have been enough to fill several news cycles. And the story of Harambe seemed primed to do just that. But then cometh another gorilla in his own right: Donald Trump. Once you throw in a dash of Trump, in any story, it instantly becomes an Internet super-story, stronger than a gorilla and perhaps three times as conspicuous.
In a Tuesday morning press conference, to defend purported donations Donald Trump gave to multiple veteran’s organizations, Trump was asked about the Harambe situation by Hunter Walker of Yahoo News.
“It was amazing, because there were moments with the gorilla — the way he held that child, it was almost like a mother holding a baby,” Trump said of the incident. “And there were moments where it looked pretty dangerous. I don’t think they had a choice…. You had a young child at stake. It’s too bad there wasn’t another way. I thought it was so beautiful to watch that powerful, almost 500-pound gorilla the way he dealt with that little boy. But it just takes one second — it just takes one little flick of his finger. And I will tell you, they probably had no choice.”
What turned out to be a thoughtful, diplomatic answer from Trump seemed to garner less attention than the fact that he, the Republican nominee, was actually talking about a gorilla.
If you watched cable news on mute today, you basically would have seen two things: Trump and the gorilla.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) May 31, 2016
— Funny Or Die (@funnyordie) June 1, 2016
Also, TRUMP-GORILLA 2016
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) May 31, 2016
Walker came under fire for bringing the question up. And news outlets like CNN were mocked for covering the news with headlines like: “Would Donald Trump have killed the gorilla?”
— CNN (@CNN) May 31, 2016
Even The New York Times called Donald Trump a gorilla, writing, “Mr. Trump has been the 800-pound gorilla whose unpredictable rampages have obsessed the news media. Now he was completing the circle by commenting on the 400-pound gorilla who briefly stole the spotlight from him for one holiday weekend.”
— dan (@DanHRothschild) May 30, 2016
While political media, and those who follow it, were asking existential questions about how to cover Trump and gorillas and both at the same time, many online were beginning to grow tired of the entire conversation, mocking the absurdity of it all.
— Stacey Patton (@DrStaceyPatton) June 1, 2016
One could see a lot of dysfunction in the strange, unending cycle of Trump/gorilla coverage. The same press that would even critique the critiques (like we are doing right now) are still feeding the beast (or the gorilla), you could say.
The relationship between Trump and the press and social media this week could be seen as dysfunctional. But it can also be seen as something else: symbiotic.
With every think piece about Harambe the gorilla, Trump gains ten voters and the wall gets taller
— Mitchell Sunderland (@mitchsunderland) June 1, 2016
By the end of this week, division over what to do with the gorilla, what to do with the press, what to do with Trump — it all seemed to be briefly overtaken with reports of violence outside of a Trump rally in California, with anti-Trump protesters throwing eggs — and a few punches — at rally attendees.
A week of speculation over a gorilla named Harambe — a word that again means, “Let us all pull together” — ended with a physical manifestation of election divisions, much more than any gorilla could have exposed.