‘Let’s go Brandon,’ sweeping across the American sporting landscape

Misheard ‘F**k Joe Biden’ chant has become a slogan for those of a right-wing persuasion

Brandon Brown won the Sparks 300 Nascar XFINITY Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Brandon Brown won the Sparks 300 Nascar XFINITY Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

 

On October 2nd, Brandon Brown won the Sparks 300 Nascar XFINITY Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. His first victory in 113 attempts, he clambered from the car and did a giddy trackside interview with NBC Sports, alternately roaring with delight while trying to remember to dutifully thank his legion of sponsors.

As the 28-year-old savoured the greatest victory of his career, the good old boys on the other side of the fence broke out a loud and lusty chorus of “F**k Joe Biden”, a rendition that soon began to drown out the conversation.

Kelli Stavast, the reporter clutching the microphone, either misheard the foul imprecation or pretended to, telling Brown, “You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go, Brandon!’” Despite her valiant/misguided efforts, nobody watching television thought that’s what they heard. And so, one of those wonderful sporting moments, a journeyman driver finally reaching the summit after years toiling in the foothills, was hijacked by the coarsest political movement in recent American history. One more casualty in the nastiest of culture wars. Except that wasn’t the end of it.

In the month since, “Let’s go, Brandon!” has become the coded catcall, the cryptic rallying cry, and ciphered campaign slogan for the Trump wing of the Republican Party (which is pretty much all of it at this stage). The MAGA refuseniks battling hard to get Toni Morrison’s novels banned from high schools took the phrase to their hearts. They have emblazoned it across t-shirts and hoodies, lawn signs and facemasks, baseball caps and bumper stickers. It has spawned several songs and one especially awful dance.

“According to Google Trends, it took roughly a week after the Brandon Brown interview for the phrase to take off - and it has since gone into the internet stratosphere,” wrote Chris Cillizza of CNN. “The rapid rise in popularity of the phrase amounts to a sort of verbal secret handshake, a way for those deeply opposed to Joe Biden’s presidency to identify other members of their tribe.”

Superior cunning

A Republican congressman ended a speech with it and an accompanying dramatic fist pump on the floor of the House of Representatives, a Southwest Airways pilot dropped it in at the end of his in-flight remarks to passengers, and college grid-iron crowds have made it part of their weekly repertoire. On right wing talk radio, they think it a hilarious and ingenious stratagem, this euphemism offering yet more evidence of the superior cunning of their political fellow-travellers.

“Imagine,” they cackle, almost incredulous, “every time somebody says, ‘Let’s go, Brandon!”, they actually mean ‘F**k Joe Biden! ’”

Truly, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table had nothing on these fellas when it comes to sardonic wit and caustic wordplay. Apart from one troubling issue. The elaborate coding seems a tad unnecessary when uncensored “F**k Joe Biden” flags have waved from pick-up trucks and billowed from the shingle of suburban houses across America since January 6th last. It’s so commonplace now as to be almost unremarkable. Even kids, traditionally huge fans of swearing, are no longer shocked by it.

Still, there’s serious money to be made in the wink and elbow language of ultra-conservative delight, and, never ones to miss a grift, Save America, Trump’s own Political Action Committee (PAC), was quick to get on the merchandising bandwagon. They are charging $45 for what they call an iconic t-shirt bearing the slogan. Which explains why the former president was smiling so broadly from his luxury box during Game 4 of the World Series last weekend as Atlanta Braves’ fans in the seats below regaled the deposed emperor with a sustained “Let’s go, Brandon!” Equal parts love song and dystopian hymn of praise.

“To all the other Brandons out there, you’re welcome! Let’s go us!” tweeted Brown at one point in this episode.

As Republicans and Democrats wage war about the phrase, he has, very wisely, resisted the urge to politicise his own involvement and has, so far, also failed to monetise the meme. Ironic considering Nascar drivers, even ones whose wealthy fathers have bankrolled their careers like his has, rely heavily on commercial sponsors. In any other circumstances, this might represent a potential financial bonanza for a little-known minor leaguer.

Domestic terrorist threat

Even if followers of his sport skew almost exclusively to the right, Brown has been around long enough to know to stay well away from something so divisive. In the bizarro world that is America just now, the media, like the country itself, appears split on the issue. There are those who regard “Let’s go, Brandon” as wonderfully subversive, a clever ruse circumventing technology censors put in place after the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol. And there are others who interpret it as a thinly-veiled domestic terrorist threat against the president, comparing it to somebody saying, “Let’s go, Isis!”

Some of the hand wringing about the whole business has the distinct flavour of hypocrisy. People who thought Robert De Niro was somehow heroic for shouting “F**k Trump” during his speech at the 2018 Tony Awards can hardly complain about this carry-on. That said, there are, as always, different levels of intensity to modern political defiance. Within weeks of Brown winning his race, NBC reported that American gun manufacturers are cashing in on the craze, selling magazines for the AR-15, the weapon of choice for the modern mass shooter, that contain the words, “Let’s go, Brandon!”

Of course they are.

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