The Meaning of ‘Let’s Go Brandon’

by | Nov 1, 2021

The Meaning of ‘Let’s Go Brandon’

by | Nov 1, 2021

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By now everyone is aware that “Let’s Go Brandon!” is code for “F*ck Joe Biden!” This linguistic innovation came about when a hapless NBC reporter told her audience that the members of a crowd shouting in unison were exuberantly expressing their enthusiasm for Brandon Brown upon his first career NASCAR Xfinity series victory at Talladega Superspeedway on October 2, 2021. In fact, the crowd was yelling “F*ck Joe Biden!” just as other crowds, at other sporting events, had been doing regularly over the summer of 2021. From the clip it is unclear whether the reporter is actually mishearing the fans in the stands, or is attempting (perhaps at the behest of her handlers via an earbud?) to convince the television audience that they should hear what the network wants them to hear. Either way, in no time at all, “Let’s Go Brandon!” became a full-fledged pop cultural phenomenon, even more surprising than the very fact that entire groups assembled at mass gatherings have felt compelled overtly to express their dissatisfaction with the U.S. president by chanting the original locution, “F*ck Joe Biden!”

Because the hilarious episode took place in a live-broadcast news report, it was impossible to erase and naturally went viral, culminating in a frenzy of “Let’s Go Brandon!” chants and memes, hats and signs, t-shirts and iTunes hits, reaching much farther than the original chant, with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Even in places as far flung as Australia and Germany, the craze has gained traction among crowds of people who jubilantly echo back “Let’s Go Brandon!” when prompted by speakers at protest events, emboldened by the sudden ability to express profanities without being profane.

Not long after the original NBC fiasco, rumors abounded on social media that Facebook had decided to prohibit users from sharing in the “Let’s Go Brandon!” fun, by labeling the phrase an instance of hate speech, which is explicitly forbidden by the social media platform’s terms of agreement. That turned out not to be the case, though believing that it was true was not the most ridiculous of mistakes, given that people are regularly banned from the platform for expressing opinions at odds with “the official story” as pronounced by the government. Most notably, throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have regularly called out as purveyors of “disinformation” or “misinformation” anyone who happens to disagree with Anthony Fauci’s opinion du jour. The label conspiracy theory continues to this day to be applied to everything from the claim that COVID-19 was manmade and funded by the U.S. government, to the fact that Fauci-run research institutes supported experiments in which beagle puppies were tortured. Perhaps the only thing that saved “Let’s Go Brandon!” from deletion at Facebook was the undeniable fact that Joe Biden is a privileged white male, a member of a class deemed altogether exempt from the possibility of hate speech, as we learned throughout the Trump years, when the expression of hatred was not only not prohibited, but in fact encouraged and indeed taken to be clear evidence of moral righteousness among all good people—at least according to themselves.

Correlatively, fear of being called out as a hateful racist may best explain the fact that many on the left overlooked not only President Barack Obama’s many disappointing compromises and his utter abandonment of the “Hope and Change” platform on which he was elected, but also his normalization of assassination and his summary execution without indictment (much less trial) of brown-skinned U.S. citizens through the use of lethal drones. Who were the citizens who spoke out against such atrocities? Primarily libertarians and other defenders of civil liberties. Meanwhile, with the exception of a few “extremist” progressives, the left continued to laud the first black president, no matter what he did. My point here is that the phenomenon of  “Let’s Go Brandon!” could never have happened under Obama, because people were afraid to criticize even the most despicable of his undertakings. No one could chant “F*ck Barack Obama!” without being immediately labeled a racist, even when his policies were objectively disgraceful.

Promotion of the concept of hate speech has always struck me as a thinly disguised effort to outlaw whatever some people do not wish to hear, in other words, a wedge to crack open the door to censorship. Closely related to hate speech are alleged hate crimes which are dubiously identifiable, relying as they do on knowledge of the perpetrator’s intentions, and presupposing that some acts of, say, murder, are somehow worse than others. Somewhat ironically, censoring hate speech might actually make it more difficult to identify so-called hate crimes. In any case, both concepts are grounded in confusion.

First, there are compelling practical reasons for not prohibiting the verbal expression of hatred, above all, that one needs to know who one’s enemies are in order to have any chance of protecting oneself from them. Second, there is no reason for believing that anyone’s use of speech directly causes any other person to do anything. Free people choose to do what they do, and it is decidedly paternalistic to pretend that one person’s expression of odium somehow causally determines other people’s actions. Third, if a person intentionally and premeditatedly ends the life of another human being, then he has committed a capital crime. Why should anyone care whether he hated his victim or, as in the case of some domestic murderers of former partners, loved her so much that he could not allow her to continue living on without him?

There have been misogynistic serial killers, who for whatever reason hate all women (or brunettes with middle parts, or…), but usually when people talk about hate crimes, they mean crimes committed out of racial or religious animus. Thus many of the murders committed throughout the Holocaust were “hate crimes” in the sense that the victims were selected for elimination on the basis of their race and religion. But, again, murder is murder, and from the perspective of the victims, it does not matter in the least what the reason was for their having been erased from the face of the planet.

The U.S. government regularly terminates people’s lives under cover of “national self-defense,” and the vast majority of the victims have been brown-skinned and poor. The racial and economic conditions of the victims of U.S. interventions abroad has always been treated by political and military elites as though it were entirely coincidental—as the first black president’s eight-year stint as commander-in-chief clearly demonstrated! But no one is using missiles launched from lethal drones to execute suspects without indictment (much less trial) in First World countries, where such action would risk the collateral damage deaths of the privileged persons who pay for their government’s crimes. When pasty white U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron decided to execute brown-skinned British citizens suspected of terrorist alliances, he waited for them to travel to Syria before sending out the drones. Cameron obviously felt empowered to do so by the precedent set by President Obama, who had executed brown-skinned U.S. citizens in Yemen, also using lethal drones.

In such cases, the killers themselves invariably claim to mean to do well, but from the perspective of the victims and those left bereft, the professedly good intentions of the killers are utterly irrelevant. Drawing a distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the crimes of the occupiers of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the thousands of acts of homicide committed in other countries of the Middle East and Africa, or the nonstop terror campaign throughout the first two decades of this century against all of the people living in any of those places, may make it easier for U.S. taxpayers to sleep better at night. They are nonetheless funding mass murder: the intentional, premeditated homicide of thousands of human beings, most of whom are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. Bombs are specifically designed, developed and produced for the sole purpose of dropping on other people’s property. Unlike guns, bombs are intrinsically offensive weapons.

Joe Biden, in contrast to Barack Obama, is a white male. Presumably no one hates Biden for those features. Indeed, in the worldview of those who wish to distinguish “hate crimes” from other types of crime, Biden’s race and gender are supposed to be characteristics which make him the very antithesis of the members of a targeted, marginal group. He has the good fortune of being situated on the baseline against which all others are measured, to their detriment, according to those who insist that the United States remains deeply mired in racism and sexism. Rather than hating Joe Biden for being a white male (which among the “hate speech” crowd is supposed to be impossible), those who chant “Let’s Go Brandon!” may disdain the president for his policies, or deride him for his ineptitude. They may despise Joe “Our patience is wearing thin” Biden for attempting to strip people of their bodily autonomy by coercing them to undergo experimental injections which they do not even need as a condition on their continued or future gainful employment. I suppose that one way in which “Let’s Go Brandon!” could be construed as an instance of hate speech would be if it were an expression of hostility toward dementia victims. But of course the Democratic Party is quick to dismiss any suggestion to the effect that Biden falls into that marginalized group.

As crowds of people have found common cause in telling Joe Biden what they really think of him, there are many others who wish for this not to happen. They find what has been going on hateful or childish or stupid or whatever—just more typical behavior on the part of MAGA deplorables. What those who are exasperated by “Let’s Go Brandon!” fail to recognize is that “F*ck Joe Biden!” is itself code for “Impeach Joe Biden!” or “Joe Biden is wrong!” or “Biden is a failure!” or “Biden is a joke!” or whatever the emoter’s personal interpretation and grievances happen to be. That’s the beauty of language: it is infinitely interpretable. When people chant “F*ck Joe Biden!” none of them literally means “F*ck Joe Biden!” (After all, who would want to do that?)

Oh, was that hateful? The ultimate problem with censoring speech is that the meaning of each and every phrase lies not with the speaker, but with the reader. Censorship is a tool of tyranny, wielded by those incapable of convincing their rivals through the use of language that their interpretations are wrong. If the “Let’s Go Brandon!” crowd is mistaken about Joe Biden, then by all means show them the error in their ways. If the disagreements are too fundamentally anchored in values, then it may be impossible to change their view.

The solution to disagreements about values is not, however, to redefine lies as truth and offense as defense and war as peace and health as sickness and prudence as selfishness and assassination as targeted killing and torture as enhanced interrogation techniques and dissent as disinformation. The meanings we attach to language evolve over time, but unilaterally redefining words to suit one’s purposes is nothing more and nothing less than linguistic legerdemain. Proclaiming from a pedestal that 2 + 2 = 5 does not make it so. Preventing people from expressing their views through the use of language demonstrates not the righteousness of the censors, but the weakness of their arguments.

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About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, Theodicy: A Metaphilosophical Investigation, You Can Leave, Laminated Souls, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic's Critique, in addition to many essays and book chapters.

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