Recently, The Washington Post published a news article, “Biden’s critics hurl increasingly vulgar taunts,” exploring what the paper says is a growing phenomenon of people around the country directing raw insults at the president. As an example, the paper pointed to President Joe Biden’s recent visit to his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where a woman stood on the street with a sign that said, “F--- Joe Biden.” At other times, Biden detractors say simply, “FJB,” which stands for you-know-what.
The Post also noted the “Let’s go Brandon” phenomenon. If anyone doesn’t know what that is, it stemmed from an NBC sportscast of an October race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in which a crowd chanted, “F--- Joe Biden.” The chants were clearly audible while NBC was interviewing NASCAR driver Brandon Brown. Trying to smooth things over and make it appear to viewers that all was well, the interviewer said, “You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go Brandon!’” So then, as fast as things happen on the internet, people began saying “Let’s go Brandon” as a snarky — and cleaner — way to say “F--- Joe Biden.”
All this derision directed toward the president has disturbed some in the media. Biden “is increasingly becoming an object of hatred to many Trump supporters,” the Post reported. Conceding that “boos, jeers and insults are nothing new for politicians,” the paper nevertheless declared that “The current eruption of anti-Biden signs and changes, however, is on another level, far more vulgar and widespread.”
To which anyone who was awake from 2016 to 2020 might ask: “What???”
In case you have forgotten, the level of hostility directed at President Donald Trump — and the prominence of those attacking the president — far exceeded anything seen so far in the Biden administration. To illustrate the point, just focus specifically on the phrase “F--- Trump.”
In June 2018, actor Robert De Niro appeared at the Tony Awards ceremony in New York. His role was to introduce a performance by Bruce Springsteen, but he started with this: “I’m gonna say one thing. F--- Trump.” The audience gave De Niro a standing ovation. As they cheered, De Niro said, “It’s no longer down with Trump. It’s f--- Trump.” Now, this was not some woman standing on a street corner in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was the most celebrated and honored actor of his generation, appearing before the entertainment elite in a nationally televised event, saying, with great pride, “F--- Trump.”
In June 2020, a Los Angeles art gallery organized a “hybrid virtual exhibition and protest where all of the works read ‘F--- Trump,’” according to Los Angeles magazine. That article went on to say that, “Also integral to the campaign is the logo, with a middle finger thrust up in the center of the ‘u’ in Trump.”
In August 2017, the rapper Eminem appeared at a music festival in England. During his set, he launched into an anti-Trump diatribe. “The audience cheered and began chanting ‘F--- Donald Trump’ unprompted,” Billboard reported, “while Eminem then said he had a request of the audience: ‘When I say ‘F---,’ you say ‘Trump’!”
These are just three examples of a very widespread phenomenon. Anyone paying any attention during that time will remember them. But now, The Washington Post says, there is a new phenomenon, one that is “on another level, far more vulgar and widespread” than the insults directed at Trump.
Does anyone really believe that? It might be more accurate to say that “F--- Trump” prepared the way for the age of “FJB.” But that is not entirely true — while some are indeed saying “F--- Joe Biden,” it’s worth recognizing that the “Let’s go Brandon” phenomenon is all about suggestion rather than explicitness, about creating a new euphemism that avoids the F-word altogether. Surely that’s worth something.
As the Post suggested, insulting the president has a long history. But it’s fair to say that the “F--- Trump” years were a pretty robust time for presidential insults. In some circles, the events of that period served to normalize saying f--- the president. So why should anyone be surprised by what is happening now?