There are only a couple things we get to have for free in this country. Healthcare, paid parental leave, college, and the right to a habitable planet in anywhere from five to fifteen years are not among them. But one thing we do get to have, and tend to take advantage of with relative frequency, is the license to call politicians squealing bags of pus. Or to make little flash animations of them singing famous songs with parody lyrics. Or to show up at protests with cardboard signs that make puns out of their names, which too often say more about the sign holder than its subject. It has never been clear to me what it means to call the U.S. a “free country,” but to the extent that we are one, this is what we get.
You may have heard that, over the weekend, an Associated Press reporter was on a Southwestern Airlines flight from Houston to Albuquerque, when the pilot “signed off his greeting over the public address system” with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon.” This was received, per the AP, with “audible gasps from some passengers.” The pearl-clutching stemmed from the fact that “Let’s Go Brandon” has become a popular conservative slogan that means “Fuck Joe Biden,” after an NBC reporter, covering a NASCAR race last month, mistook chants of the latter as the former. (At the time, she had been interviewing driver Brandon Brown, who had just won his first Xfinity Series.) Predictably, the pundit class handled this incident with poise and a clear-eyed understanding that manic outrage is always the best way to squash a shitty meaningless joke.
On the spectrum of conservative humor, which starts and ends with this clip of Ben Shapiro saying “dramedy,” the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme is gorgeously flaccid. It is old-fashioned JibJab-era word play. It is quaint. In an era of QAnon-sympathizing elected officials open-carrying guns to work, it’s a throwback to a simpler time.
Some have pointed out once or twice that the media’s approach to political coverage changed under the Trump administration. After four years of scouring conservative speech for Nazi dog-whistles (as well as just audible human whistles), some of the resisters have forgotten what constitutes normal political speech. But being able to distinguish between the two is a pretty critical part of the media gig. Saying “Fuck the President” is fine. The only thing stupider than turning it into a cutesy secret slogan is getting mad about it.
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