The first thing to know about the “Let’s go Brandon” thing is: It’s funny. Or at least, it started out funny.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s how it started. In September, largely or even entirely in response to the Biden administration’s botched handling of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, crowds at various sporting events started chanting, “F— Joe Biden!”
That’s not funny or appropriate. But maybe understandable, given how badly he botched the pullout. On Oct. 2, NASCAR driver Brandon Brown won a big race. While he was being interviewed by a reporter, the crowd could be heard in the background chanting, “F— Joe Biden!” The reporter either mistakenly or deliberately assured Brown and the audience that the crowd was actually chanting, “Let’s go Brandon.”
I’m sorry, but that’s funny. And that’s why “Let’s go Brandon” was off from the races to viral status on social media and beyond.
But it has gotten weird. On Friday morning, a Southwest Airlines pilot addressed the cabin over the PA system and, according to Associated Press reporter Colleen Long, who was on the plane, concluded his normal remarks with “Let’s go Brandon.”
In response, a lot of folks are losing their Let’s-Go-Brandoning minds.
“‘Let’s Go Brandon’ has become the MAGA version of ‘Sieg Heil,’ ” one lawyer declared on Twitter. Liberal radio host Dean Obeidallah tweeted: “Southwest Airlines is now the pro-Jan 6 terrorist attack airlines.” According to a Yale professor, a pilot saying “Let’s go Brandon” is comparable to saying “Long Live ISIS!” And that’s just a small taste.
Meanwhile, Republican politicians are getting in on the act. Ted Cruz is posing for pictures with the phrase front and center. South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan posted a selfie wearing a mask with “Let’s go Brandon” printed on it. If you donate $45 or more to the Trump operation, they’ll give you a “Let’s go Brandon” T-shirt.
Florida Rep. Bill Posey concluded a floor speech with “Let’s go Brandon.” Not exactly Cato the Elder ending every speech with “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage must be destroyed).
What to make of all this?
First, folks on the left need to lighten up. “Let’s go Brandon” isn’t “Sieg Heil.” This thing hasn’t caught on because Republicans are Nazis; it has caught on because lots of Americans, including many who voted for him, think Biden is doing badly on many fronts.
Moreover, let’s not pretend that there isn’t a long, often patriotic, tradition of American citizens criticizing and insulting politicians.
Indeed, one of the things fueling the “Let’s go Brandon” stuff is liberal hypocrisy. When Trump was president, there was no shortage of mockery and expletives hurled his way. Robert De Niro got a standing ovation for saying “F— Trump” at the Tony Awards. Rep. Rashida Tlaib used similar salty language, without liberals taking to their fainting couches.
I get that some might think Trump’s a special case, given how much he soiled the presidency and the discourse. I don’t remember anyone trying to cancel Eminem for the F-bomb in his anti-Bush track “Mosh,” released just before the 2004 election.
But as is so often the case when liberals use a double standard, conservatives suddenly discover it, too. Partisans on the right were often outraged by crude attacks on Republican presidents. They condemned such epithets as offensive and disrespectful. Now they think they’re great. If the left should lighten up, the right should grow up.
Part of the problem driving this coarseness is the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier between social media and real life. Often, what’s funny or arguably defensible on Twitter, TikTok or Facebook is simply inappropriate in real life.
The way social media encourage people to behave like jackasses is itself part of a deeper and more pernicious trend in society. In his book “A Time to Build,” Yuval Levin catalogs how leaders—in politics, business, sports, media—increasingly use their institutions as “platforms” to perform on, rather than the organizations molding their members to specific missions. De Niro used award shows to lecture and scold. Colin Kaepernick used the NFL as a platform for his causes. Trump saw the presidency as a stage on which he could celebrate himself.
Levin argues that the first job of a leader is to ask, “What’s my role here?” If that Southwest Airlines pilot or Posey seriously grappled with that question, they wouldn’t have said, “Let’s go Brandon.” They would have said, “Let’s not.”