'Dark Brandon' shows up at State of the Union, mops the floor with lost Republicans
USA Today headline
As Neil Postman told us so long ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death, American political discourse has been on a downward trajectory since the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Even for those of us who consider ourselves holdouts standing firm for rational thought and factual reporting, memes can be a quick way to take the national temperature.
Which brings us to Dark Brandon. In case you've forgotten, the whole Brandon thing started - where else? - at NASCAR, in 2021; specifically at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway.
Brandon Brown, a 28-year-old driver, had won his first Xfinity Series and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter. The crowd behind him was chanting something at first difficult to make out. The reporter suggested they were chanting "Let’s go, Brandon" to cheer the driver. But it became increasingly clear they were saying: "F--- Joe Biden."
"Go, Brandon" became code for "Fuck Joe Biden." Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz picked it up. So did Mitch McConnell. Forget civility. It had been on life support for years. By 2021, it was dead.
During the Trump years, Internet memes cast an overweight, bullying New York real estate developer as a macho superhero. Now Democrats are stooping to conquer. Dark Brandon memes turn Biden's perceived weaknesses - his age, his unglamorous penchant for actually doing the work of governing, his reliance on goofy, outdated words like malarkey - into advantages. After Tuesday's State of the Union address, Dark Brandon memes proliferated on the Internet, many of them trading in the same macho images that once attached themselves to Trump.
They might originate in China, Russia, or in the laptop of a candidate's 22-year-old digital comms consultant, but when Dark Brandon memes went viral, it sure looked like something real was happening.
The rise of Dark Brandon, the patronizing nickname that once belittled a political figure with undeniable gravitas, is to some degree, the tale of an underdog. The kid who stuttered. The boy whose dad grew wealthy during World War II but fell on hard times.
"My dad always said, 'Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up,'" is one of his oft-repeated lines. On Tuesday, Biden brilliantly turned heckling to his advantage. Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, now an MSNBC commentator, said that Biden's staff anticipated heckling by Republicans.
Biden baited the obvious suspects, telling the crowd - and the TV audience - that Republicans were proposing to "sunset" Social Security and Medicare, part of an absurd proposal made last year by Florida Senator Rick Scott to let all legislation expire after five years unless reauthorized by Congress. The proposal would create a logistical nightmare, and constitutes a backdoor attack on entitlements, which not even the most reckless anti-government politician dares attack outright.
With Georgia Republican House member Marjorie Taylor Greene and others shouting "Liar!" Biden came back, grinning: "I enjoy conversion...as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now. We've got unanimity!"
As scattershot humiliation becomes ritualized in digital discourse, Biden, and Dark Brandon, offer a playbook for dignity and resilience.
OK, maybe Joe Biden photoshopped as a cast member of Troy isn't exactly dignified. But you get it.
And then there were the hecklers....