The GameStop Saga Is the First Post-Trump Story

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For much of the past week, one story has dominated the news: The share price of GameStop, a brick-and-mortar retail chain that sells physical copies of video games in the cloud computing age. A few weeks ago, we would have found it remarkable that any kind of news event could be fashioned from these raw materials. But at second glance, it is in many ways a perfect story for the internet news age. It concerns staggering sums of money. It is complicated enough to merit multiple explainers. It involves social media’s ability to create profound consequences with far-reaching and as-yet unknown implications in the real world: Is this a rubicon moment in the gamification of everything?  Will the economy be changed forever because of a subreddit?

Meanwhile, at the margins of the story there was a whiff of populist uprising—Reddit users fed up with casino capitalism take on hedge funds at their own rigged game!—and the meat of the matter was enthrallingly complicated, making it well-suited to sustain a frenzied take cycle. What’s happening? Who are the good guys? Are there good guys? It has also scrambled the exhausting polarization of American politics, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, and Dave Portnoy all more or less on the same page. Chances are we will look back on these past few days of GameStop mania as the Wall Street version of Balloon Boy or the Bloomberg terminal version of llamas on the lam; grabbing the news cycle for a brief instant before being forgotten. For the moment, GameStop is everywhere, everything. 

There may be a simpler explanation: The GameStop saga is the first big post-Trump story. Sure, there have been attempts to tie it to the president: Some argue that the merry gang of daytraders on Reddit were analogous to Trump’s own social media army; Donald Trump Jr. has predictably pledged allegiance to Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets channel, hoping its users will help propel him to four percent in the 2024 Republican primary. But the story has been more or less blessedly free of the former president’s grubby fingerprints. Last year, tens of millions of people voted for Joe Biden in the hope that, one day they could think about something, anything, other than Donald Trump for 24 hours. GameStop is that dream fulfilled.