Yup, That Image of a Mitten-Clad, Socially-Distant, Errand-Running Bernie Sanders Is the Greatest Meme Ever

Illustration for article titled Yup, That Image of a Mitten-Clad, Socially-Distant, Errand-Running Bernie Sanders Is the Greatest Meme Ever
Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Getty Images)

It’s been 12 years since I last felt how I felt while I begrudgingly watched some of the inauguration yesterday. Whatever relief experienced in ridding of the outgoing president (minimal) or pride in witnessing history (eh), was flattened by anxiety that something terrible was going to happen. And so from the time President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in, to that surreal moment where Mike Pence rolled off with a motorcade as if he fucking matters enough for one, I wanted it to end.

This sort of dread, which is somehow both existential and literal, ain’t exclusive to Black Americans. We weren’t the only ones who felt it during Barack Obama’s inauguration, and we weren’t alone in feeling it yesterday. What distinguishes us is scale. It’s not a departure from the norm, it is the norm. A default, earned through centuries of knowing our country better than it wishes to know itself. White disruption, white violence, and white terror are always just around the corner. Sometimes it’s on time, sometimes it’s just stuck in traffic.

But we still, somehow—always—find space for joy. And that space ain’t really found. It’s manufactured. Fought for. It wouldn’t exist without an effort to conjure it. And I was reminded of that yesterday, as the collective viewing of the inauguration became a group therapy session; a conduit for us to experience that dread together while also assembling the space to create perhaps the greatest meme of all time.

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What made the image of the mitten-clad, socially-distant, (probably) errand-running Bernie Sanders so visceral was the honesty of it. While most of the rest of the celebrities and celebrity politicians there dressed and acted like they were at the prom, Bernie looked how I felt yesterday. Shit, how I feel most days—barely present, iron deficient, ready to be somewhere else, and (probably) thinking about grits. He didn’t just look like he was about to run to Walgreens, he looked like he was late for his shift there. And immediately—seriously, immediately—the humor of the juxtaposition of Bernie’s countenance with the pomp and circumstance surrounding him was pounced upon and appropriated. He was “me, while y’all are on Clubhouse.” Or “me at a party.

And then Bernie, in his chair, was everywhere. With the Cavs discussing strategy. Riding Appa. And even at the Red Table.

Anyway, anointing it the greatest meme ever might be premature. We’ll see if it has the staying power of the Jordan Cry Face. (And admittedly, I’m already kinda over it.) But I can’t recall a meme happening as quickly and spreading as widely as this did. And when considering the circumstance it was created in, it has a case. I needed something to silo that dread, if even for a moment, and this helped.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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