Vulgar Chants

Published January 28, 2022

The New Criterion - December 2021 issue

Right up there with “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” as an instant American classic is what Slate has called “the secretly vulgar chant suddenly beloved by Republicans” — though “secretly vulgar” is an oxymoron, and the popular enthusiasm for “Let’s go, Brandon!” is hardly limited to Republicans. It isn’t by way of the country club and the Chamber of Comerce that you arrive at viral meme-hood, I think. Ex-military guys who shop at convenience stores are a different matter, and when one of them, a Marine Corps veteran named James Kilcer from Yuma, Arizona, went viral himself by disarming and capturing a gas-station robber, he accepted his award for valor from the Yuma county sheriff’s office while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with that slogan, LETS GO BRANDON (sic), over an image of an American flag.

He would have been ill-advised to do that if he were still serving, of course, but I imagine that sales of that shirt will be brisk among victims of the advertised purge of political “extremists” from the American armed forces. What makes the slogan suddenly beloved by me, anyway, is that its satirical shaft is directed not just at hapless Joe Biden, who is no more capable of inspiring Trumpian levels of hatred than he is Trumpian levels of love. Coined by Kelli Stavast of NBC Sports, ostensibly as a mishearing of a vulgar chant directed at the President by the crowd at a NASCAR race in Talladega, Alabama, “Let’s Go Brandon” has since become even more popular than its original, at least partly because it ridicules the slavishly devoted media, the absurdity of whose transparently vain attempts to cover for the ostensible President’s many failures appears to have reached its ne plus ultra with Ms Stavast’s version of the slogan.

Ah, yes, The media is much more hated than old Joe can ever hope to be, or so I believe, and the sense of irony with which the media are skewered by “Let’s go, Brandon” gives me new hope for my fellow much-battered deplorables. If America’s ruling class ever becomes the victim of a Tyler-style (Wat not John) peasants’ revolt — and Mr Biden more and more appears to be just the man to make one happen — the lawyers will have to get in line behind the journalists on the way to the executioner’s scaffold.

And maybe also behind the teachers who are, openly or surreptitiously, trying to introduce fashionable left-wing orthodoxies into our public school curricula wherewith to indoctrinate children as young as five. At any rate such teachers and the local school boards that employ them have inspired a revolt by enraged parents whom the attorney general of the United States States has averred pose a threat to the Republic like unto that of “domestic terrorists.” As Joe himself would say, I’m not kidding. Not that there’s any real surprise about this. The same characterization of the Capitol rioters of January 6 by the President himself (not to mention the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the nation’s armed forces) suggested some time ago that any resistance to the Left’s agenda “to fundamentally transform the country” is liable to be treated as potential if not actual terrorism.

I think the states that are passing laws to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory — I don’t know of any that have yet tried to ban “gender” theory — are making a mistake. Such pernicious ideas, I fear, will always find a way into schools under the ideological radar if the state attempts to get into the business of legislating the curriculum. Yet for the second time in a year states with the best interests of children rather than teachers at heart have been presented with a window of political opportunity, in my view, to abolish public education entirely, along with the education industry that supports it, and give parents a voucher with which they may purchase the private education of their choosing. I suspect that both Critical Race Theory and gender studies would die on the vine except in those few places where guilt-crazed liberal parents would choose it.

But then if Republican-controlled states didn’t think to do that in response to the shutting down of schools at the behest of teachers’ unions during the pandemic lockdown they probably never will. I guess the one lesson we’ve all learned from the left is that noisily protesting against the things you don’t like is more fun than the hard work of actually doing something about them. Just as Democrats need racial discord to continue in order to provide themselves with a perpetual reason for existing — discord which, nevertheless, no one will ever expect them to do anything about, except to increase it — so Republicans badly need to rail against underperforming and miseducating public schools, especially if they’re not in their own neighborhoods, as an excuse for not doing anything to change them.

Such cynicism in no way applies to Scott Smith the enraged father of Loudoun County, Virginia, who was arrested and forcibly removed from a school board meeting last June for protesting that his daughter had been raped in a Stone Bridge High School lavatory by a teenage boy in a skirt. The boy, as you will already have guessed, had obtained the school’s ideologically-based sanction for pretending to be a girl. Before the cops hauled him away, Scott Ziegler, the Loudoun County school superintendent sniffily informed Mr Smith, not only that, “To my knowledge, we don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms,” but, on the authority of Time magazine, that “the predator transgender student or person simply does not exist.”

That was good enough for local law enforcement and also for the media, whose reports of the incident were not always followed up by news of the subsequent conviction in late October of the teen predator, who apparently did exist, not only for the Stone Bridge assault but for the same offense at another school to which he had been transferred after the Stone Bridge incident. Likewise, you had to look to The Daily Wire or The New York Post for an explanation of Mr Ziegler’s carefully-worded claim (“To my knowledge”) that there was no record of sexual assault in Loudoun County schools. In the words of the Wire’s headline of October 14: “Loudoun Schools Did Not Record Multiple Alleged Sexual Assaults Over A Period Of Years Despite State Law, Records Show.” The rest of the media, four years after their advocacy campaign on behalf of the #MeToo movement began (see “New directions in scandalology” in The New Criterion of December, 2017) appeared to have no interest in poor Mr Smith’s — and his daughter’s — vindication, nor in what ought to have been Mr Ziegler’s disgrace. At this writing, the latter remains in his job, just like Joe Biden, impervious to disgrace, thanks to the media’s perpetual indulgence.

John Daniel Davidson, writing for The Federalist, compares the affair to the Rotherham “grooming” scandals of a decade ago in which a criminal gang of Pakistani men ran a child prostitution ring in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, England, with the knowledge of local authorities. They allowed the business to go on for years without any interference from them for fear that they would be accused of “racism.” This was “political correctness gone mad,” as they used to say before it became apparent that political correctness was itself mad to begin with. But I think we now have to reach beyond that tired cliché. The idea of madness, or insanity, just doesn’t cover it any more. That progressives who have long called even the most basic prudential advice to women about how to avoid sexual assault “blaming the victim” should now blame a teenage victim’s father for trying publicly to expose her rapist is clearly a very special kind of insanity.

How then to explain it? I think we should look to the single word “intersectionality,” first mentioned in this column just over four years ago (see “Right side vs. white side” in The New Criterion of October, 2017). Invented thirty years earlier by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality has since become not only a foundational element in Critical Race Theory but the necessary mortar holding together the coalition of the Left which is currently in the business, as mentioned above, of fundamentally transforming America. Those of us who sort of liked America as it was before and expect nothing good to eventuate from its transformation need to understand it, not least because it is both what holds the Left coalition together and what makes it, in my view, inherently unstable.

Like so many bad ideas, intersectionality is a development out of Marxist-Leninist thinking which divides the world into oppressors and oppressees. Since the white working class, the original oppressees of ur-Marxism, graduated (theoretically, anyway) into the ranks of the oppressors, the pretense of being a mass movement for “change” (or, less coyly, revolution) has depended on the fiction of a unity in oppression of a plethora of other groups of notional victims unknown to Marx or Lenin. The largest of these identity groups — or those entitled to claim victim status merely by virtue of their sex or race are, of course, women and “people of color,” but they now also include homosexuals and, the newest addition to the coalition, those who call themselves “transgenders.” Now those of us on the outside of this ideological hot house ought to be able to see at once the serious, perhaps fatal flaw in the idea of a unity in oppression of women and transgenders — for reasons not entirely unrelated to what went on the girls’ restroom at Stone Bridge High School last May. I think the most radical of the radicals of the Left can see the problem with it themselves, which is why they have been busy for the last several years drumming out of their ranks as rank undesirables those they call TERFs, or Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, like Germaine Greer — people, in other words, who believe that women’s rights include the right to be women and not, as the prestigious medical journal The Lancet would prefer it, “bodies with vaginas.”

The upshot of it all is that, if the coalition of the “woke” is like a family, feminism is now the battered wife — denied, with threatened punishments, any right to an independent existence and bidden to shut up if minded to lodge any complaint against her abuser. The very word “woman” has been banned by the most advanced to mean, you know, woman. It’s OK to call a man pretending to be a woman a woman. In fact you must. “Trans women are women,” goes the slogan. But real women, must be qualified out of existence and referred to as “cis-gendered women” or “people who menstruate” or “people with vaginas.” People who have babies is problematical, however, since, just as trans women are women, so it is an article of faith among the wokest of the woke-ist politbureau that men can have babies too. They just haven’t managed to do so yet. And even this is not so crazy as the idea that pre-pubertal children have the right to decide which sex they wish to belong to and undergo medical intervention accordingly, with no parental veto allowed.

Again, looking from the outside in, I think it ought to be obvious that even a slight outbreak of common sense in such a pressurized environment would have the effect of destroying the fiction of a commonality of interests of the notionally oppressed and, with it, the “woke” coalition itself — which is why the media’s unofficial commissars of the Left have to keep the pressure up on behalf of ideological conformity. Still, wherever their writ does not run — which is, still, most of America — they’ve got to be able to see the terrible public image of their kind which is projected by stories like that of the incident at Stone Bridge High School and the subsequent cover-up. These stories, like the many which reveal Joe Biden’s incompetence and disconnectedness from reality, they themselves cannot continue to cover up forever.

If I were they it would have looked to me like the writing on the wall, not only for the fiction of parental outrage as “domestic terrorism” but perhaps for the coalition of the woke itself, when pupils at Broad Run High School — the school to which Scott Smith’s daughter’s 15-year-old rapist was transferred, only to strike again there — walked out of their classes to stage a protest, chanting, “Loudoun County protects rapists.” You wouldn’t have read about it in the prestige press, represented locally by The Washington Post, but several local TV news organizations covered the protest and word does, as they say, get around.

It’s enough to make you wonder why the militant transgenders were welcomed into the coalition in the first place. There are not enough of them to add appreciably to the numbers of what purports to be a mass movement, and the strains placed on the other members of the coalition, particularly feminists, called on to defend them, and the consequent bad publicity, could hardly be thought to be worth whatever benefits they might bring to the movement. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect that it must have something to do with the denial of nature — and, with it, everything formerly known as reality — that has been at the heart of the Marxist project from its beginning. The Left would be nowhere and nothing without its devout belief in the social construction of reality, and the transgenders have come on board with them saying, in effect, “Put up or shut up.” For such devotees to deny them, along with their assault on nature, would have been to deny themselves.

Once seemingly god-like, Nature itself has been downgraded to “the environment” — an expression reeking of anthropocentrism, or so one would have thought. But thus does “the environment” take its place among the (alas, non-voting) victims of oppression — white, male, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchal, heterosexual, cis-gendered oppression — cultivated by the Left and the media, who lead the charge for the overthrow of their oppressors. The silence of the environment about its sufferings must make up to some extent for the noisiness of, and the occasional embarrassment caused by, the transgender faction, but such relief comes at a price. It means that people like Joe Biden must speak on the environment’s behalf. And when other people, quite a lot of other people, go around chanting “F*** Joe Biden” — or, indeed, “Let’s go, Brandon” — it cannot but have a knock-on effect on the poor oppressed environment. I think that, like old Joe himself, the environment has suffered enough. Don’t you?

Mr. Bowman is well known for his writing on honor, including his book, Honor: A History and “Whatever Happened to Honor,” originally delivered as one of the prestigious Bradley Lectures at the American Enterprise Institute in 2002, and republished (under the title “The Lost Sense of Honor”) in The Public Interest.

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