My apologies for the lack of content last week, as I was stuck in bed with a sinus infection. I can only hope that this week’s column will make it up to those I’ve kept waiting, but enough about me.
In blue-leaning Connecticut, which ranks as America’s 11th-most urban state, there may not be many NASCAR fans. Certainly, I am not among them.
NASCAR, officially known as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, was founded in 1948 and hosts annual races such as the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Despite relative obscurity outside of the working-class South and Midwest, these races can draw up to 300,000 spectators and greatly influence their cultural attitudes.
This was made evident by a bizarre occurrence after the Xfinity Series on Saturday, Oct. 2 in Talladega, Alabama., where those spectators drove a meme directly into our national political discourse.
I’ll back up. After crossing the Xfinity Series’ finish line first, driver Brandon Brown climbed out of his car to celebrate his first-ever victory. Brown, a 28-year-old Virginia native, was soon approached by NBC sportscaster Kelli Stavast, who’d been covering the race. Stavast asked him some variation of the classic “How’s it feel to win your first title?”, but Brown’s answer was interrupted by rowdy NASCAR fans chanting “f*** Joe Biden” during his big moment.
This could have ended right there, but no. In this awkward position where fans clearly directed their obscenities at our 46th president , Stavast suggested that the crowd was actually chanting “let’s go Brandon” to congratulate the race’s winner.
Whether this was a smooth save or a deliberate diversion depends on who you ask. The possibility that it was neither of these is where I’ll begin.
To give Stavast the benefit of the doubt, it was loud on that race track. The “f*** Joe Biden” chants are clearly audible on any broadcast of Stavast’s interview with Brown, but this may not have been the case for anyone standing down on the track without access to TV microphones placed throughout the audience. Brown’s non-reaction to Stavast declaring she heard “let’s go Brandon” chants supports this idea, though I believe he’s probably had enough media training to know not to correct her and make a scene.
Regardless of what she heard or thought she heard, the fact remains that Stavast misrepresented the chants coming from her audience. In the nearly two weeks since this incident, such misrepresentation has become unfortunately commonplace from both sides of the political aisle.
The most clear manipulation comes from those who I will call the “Brandoners” — hardcore conservatives all the way from pro-Trump political action committees (PACs) to Twitter users. These are the people who have embraced the meme and incorrectly deduced that their new battle cry will woo over independents ahead of next year’s midterms.
However, rhetoric from the camp of former President Donald Trump makes it clear that this Brandoner movement is more about one-upping political opponents than expanding on the Republican coalition Trump built in 2020.
On Monday, Oct. 11, Trump’s “Save America” PAC sent a text alert to subscribers that included the lines “F*** Joe Biden” and “Let’s Go Brandon.” Through the conservative host site WinRed, Save America is now selling “FJB” T-shirts. The cost? Why of course, a donation of at least $45 to the Trump movement.
It should be noted that the “f*** Joe Biden” chant is not new to Talladega Superspeedway. Plenty of college football fans have castigated our president this season, including those at the University of Iowa, the University of Utah and a slew of Southeastern Conference schools.
However, you wouldn’t know this by watching most mainstream media outlets. The anti-Biden videos mostly permeated the likes of Instagram and TikTok. This means that these platforms’ disproportionately young users have encountered audiences showing open disdain for our president at these events.
We saw a similar phenomenon in the leadup to last year’s presidential election, as pro-Trump music — particularly Bryson Gray’s “Trump is Your President,” and the hijacked MAGA anthem “Red Kingdom” by Tech N9ne — were staples of roadside Trump rallies and took over TikTok.
This is not to say that the Brandoners will succeed in hijacking the technology institutions they claim to hate for censoring conservative voices. But, it is difficult to deny the soft power of any amusing chant. Just as I doubt every single person amused by “let’s go Brandon” is a Trump diehard, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few students getting in on the “f*** Joe Biden” fun actually voted for the guy.
Ultimately, if Democrats want to stop young people from feeling energized by an ideology they deem dangerous, they cannot continue to ignore the cultural significance of this meme.
Likewise, if Brandoners want to bring young people into their movement, their messaging must go beyond this clever chant and include some real policy reform. Perhaps President Biden’s visit to UConn tomorrow will give them that chance.