an ironic rhetorical primer
“Let’s go Brandon” is the worst political slogan of the twenty-first century.
No, not because of its rancid content. Biden is not worthy of our defense, but even in our terminal presidential cynicism, we must distinguish relationships of strategy. The reactionary goons who parrot this slogan are no comrades of ours, and we stand to gain nothing but confusion if we muddy the coalitional waters. Nevertheless, it is not the time to celebrate nor condemn antagonism against Uncle Joe.
Instead, it’s time to condemn redundancy. “Let’s go Brandon” is a bad slogan because it is empty palaver.
To catch up the uninitiated: “Let’s go Brandon” took off when a NASCAR reporter misunderstood a much more pointed jeer echoing throughout the Talladega Superspeedway. Pumping their fists and clapping their hands, the bay of white guys chanted, “Fuck Joe Biden!”
Once it was co-signed by Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Republican lawmakers, and the actual Brandon who competed in the race, the slogan skyrocketed within right-wing media. Just yesterday, while busing through Shaler Township, I saw two “Let’s Go Brandons” plastered on two business reader-boards. A quintessential minced oath, the slogan allows professionals, politicians, and public figures the freedom to say what they really think without attracting the ire of an F-bomb. Keep in mind, as right-wingers, these individuals typically assume that their speech is scrutinized by a liberal-biased media whipping their “Woke mob” minions into a cancellation frenzy. When assuming the worldview of the perpetual victim, a euphemistic slogan provides much-desired rhetorical comfort. Honestly, in all the senses that its comeuppance suggests – humble origins, wide appeal, and circumlocution – “Let’s Go Brandon” is an incredibly-effective slogan, at least for now.
Hell, it even made it onto gift wrapping paper. The War on Christmas is coming from inside the house.
Only time will tell if “Let’s Go Brandon” becomes a permanent specter haunting the Biden Administration. However, at this moment, we can locate the slogan within a legacy of right-wing retreats to the terrain of plausible deniability. From the cartoonishly-devious face of Pepe the Frog to the discrete wink of an OK sign, the right speaks to itself and to the world using a set of not-so-secret encoded signs. These signals gesture toward a shared political identity: in opposition to a political figure, in allegiance with a social formation, or in alignment with an ideological worldview. In doing so, the sloganeer fosters solidarity among their comrades in reaction.
These appeals also produce a series of equal and opposite reactions. After a Southwest Airlines pilot spoke the infamous phrase on a flight boarded by Joe Biden, the company condemned the speech act and placed him under investigation. Peloton rushed to block “Let’s Go Brandon” from appearing in hashtags. A Twitter search of Congressman Bill Posey, the Republican representative whose speech contained the slogan, reveals a deluge of liberal commentators flaming Posey and even more conservatives celebrating his tongue-and-cheek candor. While, of course, the same cannot be said of every non-conservative who encounters this slogan, these examples illustrate a rhetorical phenomenon that we need to start taking seriously if we want to understand how and why reactionaries maintain a consistent, if not expanding, base of appeal: the retreat to rhetorical sanitation.
Political correctness, cancel culture, sensitivity training, and the Woke Mob – reactionaries have called rhetorical sanitation by many names, and each of these phrases gesture toward the phenomenon and others in different contexts. Each of these bogeymen gesture toward the well-documented right-wing fantasy of persecution. Slogans like “Let’s Go Brandon” do not just offer a relatively-safe means to express their political identity. They also represent and reinforce the desire for that sense of safety, and, by extension, their self-image as targeted outsiders who have to resort to euphemism to express themselves. Because they cannot freely use a political slogan encouraging ire toward the President on a commercial airline with him on board that they are piloting, they are victims of a conspiratorial silencing of the conservative “movement.”
There is a lot of irony to unpack here. First and foremost, conservatives who dislike Joe Biden are obviously neither victims nor outsiders. Conservatism has and does hold power in this nation, reactions of a few corporate Human Resources departments notwithstanding. When cranks like Ben Shapiro raise the alarm-bells about the embattlement of their First Amendment Rights, they overtly repeat this cycle of victimhood, outrage, and victimhood. Likewise, when they uphold “Let’s Go Brandon,” they signal to each other that their movement has need for slogans that offer plausible deniability. In so doing, they imply the same position of victimhood.
Naturally, this implication becomes more explicit when liberal actors – politicians, companies, and social media users alike – actually condemn the euphemistic slogan, either through speech or administrative action. When Peloton signals its disapproval of the slogan, reactionaries earn the opportunity to come to its defense and, yet again, resupply their sense of collective precarity with the infinite font of attention:
“Let’s Go Brandon” is so good because any response to it is a trap that strengthens its raison d’être. Yet, ignoring it does little to quell its circulation. It is for this reason that it is the worst slogan of the twenty-first century: It is yet another bait-and-switch gambit by which which droves of uninitiated, uncaring, and uninvolved liberal responders have been hooked. It is another entry into the mountain of evidence that too many of us who at least nominally, if not functionally, oppose reactionary politics have not learned some fundamental lessons of persuasion in a public scene saturated by ironic discourse. In the shadow of so many slogans before it and undoubtedly many to come, it is a sign that too many are either unwilling or incapable of adjusting their response strategies to avoid fanning the same flames that they attempt to quell. If this is how the American “left” insists on presenting itself in the shadow of the upcoming Midterm elections, as rhetorical janitors attempting to take a Swiffer to a memetic biohazard, then it will only have itself to blame for a Red Tsunami.
The weakness of this slogan, and so many others like it, is its redundancy. In light of this, effective rhetorical countermeasures must capitalize on this redundancy and expose it as a point of persuasive and ideological inefficacy. For example, I offer a suggested retort to the slogan: “Fuck Joe Biden.”
In other words, reiterating to the interlocutor exactly what they mean. This retort accomplishes a number of objectives that, per my account, represent a far better tactic against ironic reaction than the ethos of rhetorical sanitation:
- It shatters the fantasy of plausible deniability. You force the sloganeer to either agree or disagree with the sentiment of antagonism toward Joe Biden without metonymic mystification. In doing so, you ruin the joke. You immediately assert that you are not a rhetorical dupe off of whom conservatives can earn a quick laugh. Additionally, you force the sloganeer to immediately account for their precise sense of hatred for the President or to retreat from the conversation all-together, suffering a rhetorical loss and abandoning their endorsement of the slogan in that specific encounter.
- It throws a wrench in the reactionary us/them dichotomy through which they retain coherent political identification. You need not agree with the sentiment of “Fuck Joe Biden” to agree that it is immediately useful to confuse the reactionary by your utterance of that phrase. Are you a fellow Brandon whose expressed ire comes from the right, patriotic font of energy? Are you an antifa hooligan who also antagonizes Biden but for diametrically-opposed reasons? Are you just trolling? If you manage to hold a dialectic with the sloganeer for any length of time, you can clarify such matters if you feel so inclined. As I said, this is not a time to celebrate or condemn antagonism. In any case, by failing to identify yourself as a liberal detractor by way of sanitized reaction, you immediately prevent the interlocutor from articulating their relational political identity in that moment to confirm their persecutory paranoia.
- You say what they were afraid to say. Through a trans-historical tonic of male fragility and white victimhood, reactionaries despise political cowardice. After all, the courage to “tell it like it is” energizes much of their impassioned appeals to free speech. Ironically, “Let’s Go Brandon” is a cowardly slogan in this right. In its implication of political embattlement, it must also imply that the speaker is scared to say “Fuck Joe Biden.” By reiterating the real meaning of the slogan, you force the speaker to encounter their failure to live up to the idealized subject of free speech to which they desperately aspire. Unlike the Übermensch of their dreams, they capitulated to the Woke Mob and sanitized their own speech.
Reactionaries build much of their political aspirations off of a desire for return: to better times, when America was Great Again, when there were jobs held by natural-born white Christian citizens, and when their speech could not be picked apart by liberal elites and relegated to the exceptional zone of cancelation. It then stands to reason that their main fonts of rhetorical power are just as redundant as their ideas. To give them a bit more credit, they have been running the same bit for years now because, unfortunately, the bit still works, entrapping institutional and individual interlocutors alike into playing a role in perpetuating their sense of victimhood.
As the right spins out more slogans as the times provide them, we must go on the rhetorical offensive, choosing our responses carefully to target the fantastical structure that makes this ironic appeal persuasive and community-building. Once we find the offensive, we need to stay there, pulling the rug out from underneath any further attempts to cower behind minced oaths. Let us get a few rhetorical steps ahead and stay there, and let them reveal themselves for exactly who they are!
2 thoughts on “Once Again for Brandon!”
You are right. Conservatives have not been slammed for decades by the opposing party. An illusion. And the left will not condemn conservatives in the future. No other former president had such rancid content leveled against him as Joe Biden and this Brandon thing. The left has been and will be nothing but sweet toward anyone of an opposing view. Everyone knows that anything slightly right of far left is evil. I would give you a OK sign but as we know, Madison Avenue evil. Excellent Newspeak.
You must be new here. The “rancid content” line was obviously sarcastic, and if you read any other content on this blog, you’d know how I feel about Biden. The Left is under no obligation to tolerate you, nor are you under any obligation to tolerate the Left. The thesis of this post, that you clearly missed, was that the slogan is redundant because it’s a euphemism when none was ever needed. Getting an HR slap on the wrist is not political repression. Take it from someone who’s political beliefs were actually banned in this country for a number of years.