Let’s face it: “Let’s Go Brandon” is incredibly unfunny.
Originating in 2021 as a cipher for “F*** Joe Biden,” this cheeky dig against President Biden became an easy way for American Republicans to package their partisan allegiances without expressly stating them. In fact, the three magic words have covered so much ground that they’ve been brandished by figures from influential Republican lawmakers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to washed-up career conservatives — like Ted Cruz.
It’s not that “Let’s Go Brandon” is particularly edgy or offensive; rather, it doesn’t seem to be advancing anything more than a silly catchphrase. Inside jokes within a community often are just unintelligible nonsense, as anyone in a tight-knit friend group can attest, but this one’s sheer harmlessness in spite of its adherents’ insistence that it “triggers the libs” makes it prime fodder for a meme that is, well, funny. This is precisely what “Dark Brandon” did.
The “Dark Brandon” meme is a blessing in Gen Z attire to the Biden administration, whose innocuous centrist campaign leading up to his election in 2020 left and continues to leave much to be desired by way of enthusiasm from those who lean Democrat. As such, “Dark Brandon” serves to hype up successes of the Biden administration where there is something to be hyped up. For example, Google searches for the term spiked around the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration’s landmark achievement thus far in his first term. Better yet, the meme casts a wide net from Democratic loyalists to left-wing social media users who (somewhat) ironically use “Dark Brandon” to depict an alternative universe Joe Biden as a Machiavellian strongman thwarting the MAGA-era Republican party. Ultimately, it adds life to a presidency whose approval is arguably bolstered by negative partisanship, or a preference in favor of one major party due to a strong disdain for the other.
So now that Biden is memeable, where does that leave us for important ongoing issues from racial, environmental and migrant justice to anti-imperialism to uplifting labor? Unfortunately, from the perspective of social justice movements seeking to combat systemic issues such as poverty, systemic racism and state violence, climate change and continued neglect of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in precisely the same position as we were during the Trump administration. When he wasn’t enacting violently anti-poor, anti-immigrant and pro-militarist legislation, Donald Trump’s frequent gaffes and overall ridiculous demeanor were hilarious in a perverse sort of way.
And while the Biden administration has supposedly lent an ear to important social justice goals, we can’t allow his newly discovered charisma to conceal his real allegiance to the status quo of capitalist inequality and imperialism, nor can we forget his decades-long political alignment with right-wing Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans.
Biden’s concessions to right-wing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on climate have sabotaged his entire environmental agenda, which already upheld feckless tax and market-based decarbonizing incentives that fossil fuel corporations can easily skirt past and lobby against. Granted, this isn’t so much Biden’s fault as it is the fault of a party leadership that dedicates more of its efforts to undermine progressives than disciplining saboteur caucus members like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
What we can attribute to Biden, however, are unprecedented increases to the U.S. military budget, which further threatens global peace and climate change mitigation as the U.S, out of its own imperialist geopolitical aims, continues to stoke tension with China over Taiwan. And whether you like it or not, the same result comes from Biden co-signing over $22 billion in military aid to Ukraine for the war effort against the ongoing Russian invasion. The only long-term beneficiaries are defense contractors like Raytheon, who are enriched by billions of dollars even if it means risking nuclear conflict. From its position on the imperial moral high ground, the United State perpetuates its own economic violence through what the Progressive International calls “illegal sanctions” preventing trade with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and more, effectively depriving civilians of access to medicine, nutrition and economic stability due to the U.S’ negative views towards state officials. Similarly, as of September, the U.S. and Switzerland seized $3.5 billion in Afghan assets from Afghanistan in order to “selectively” prevent it from being used by the governing Taliban, exacerbating poverty and suffering brought about both by Taliban policies and the illegal NATO invasion and occupation beginning in 2001 — which Biden ferociously supported.
Let’s leave “Dark Brandon” in 2022. Rightward flanks by the Biden administration in the past two months alone include siding with rail corporations and degrading the rights of unionized rail workers by blocking their planned strike in November, thus preventing them from winning much-deserved paid sick leave; and extending Trump-era immigration policies meant to expel refugees fleeing violence and poverty caused, in part, by the legacy of U.S. imperialism in Central and South America. Buying into the spectacle and ridiculousness of Donald Trump is one of the factors that led to his election and enabled his string of catastrophic policies, willful negligence of the COVID-19 pandemic being just one of them. Giving any space to memeify a sitting president gives them leeway and free public relations to distract from harmful policies. We had and will continue to have fun over Biden’s many laughable moments — my heart goes out to Cornpop and SODA— but in 2023, holding our leaders unambiguously accountable and fighting for a people’s agenda should be our top priority. If you want a little fun, as a treat, I recommend looking up #Lulag to hold you over.