Talking Points

'Let's go Brandon' and the anti-civility arms race

Let me lay my cards out on the table: I'd rather not be writing about "Let's go Brandon," a culture war kerfuffle that is the very definition of "more heat than light." It's an expression of anger that exists only to create more expressions of anger — an ouroboros of political rage, feeding on itself forever. There will be no winners, and nothing useful will come of it.

But the controversy is worth mentioning for one small reason: To note that Americans have more or less given up on practicing civility in favor of arguing about civility.

If you aren't already familiar with the topic, "Let's go Brandon" has become the favored chant of conservatives across the country — a purportedly non-vulgar way of saying "F--k Joe Biden." In recent weeks, the phrase has been chanted by crowds in packed sports stadiums, purportedly uttered by a Southwest Airlines pilot preparing for takeoff, and gleefully used by naughtly little members of Congress. This has made some people mad.

"Could the contrast be any greater?" wrote Dana Milbank at the Washington Post. "Half of America's leaders are trying to govern, and the other half are hurling vulgarities." And vulgarity is nothing new for the right: Who can forget Vice President Dick Cheney telling Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) to "go f--k yourself" on the Senate floor? And have we already forgotten former President Donald Trump's Twitter feed?

But let's be honest here. Liberals don't have much room to complain about political civility — not after four years of "F--k Trump" group art projects and awards show speeches; not after progressive activists harassed Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in a public bathroom and hassled the bride's family at a wedding simply because Sinema was in attendance; not after then-Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was famously turned away from a restaurant where her family sought to eat. 

Bothsiderism is out of fashion these days, but: Both sides do it. 

As a general rule, we expect more civility from our political rivals than we're willing to give them, which makes it certain we'll never get it. Your breach of civility is a trespass against good taste and decent manners, while my breach of civility is a righteous stand made necessary by your terrible political positions. There's a perpetual war on courtesy, consideration, and respect in our politics, and nobody's disarming. "Let's go Brandon" is dumb and kind of offensive, which means it's a perfect fit for American political discouse.