The Deeper Meaning Behind an Inauguration Meme

By Lola Weber

February 12, 2021

A star studded inaugural ceremony wasn’t enough to steal the spotlight from an image of an unimpressed looking Bernie Sanders, hunched in his seat with recycled mittens. Immediately following the inauguration, this image went viral and rapidly spread through various social media platforms. 

As this image continued to saturate political discourse throughout several outlets, Bernie soon transformed into a meme, having been photoshopped into historical moments, iconic art pieces, and a plethora of other pop culture moments. The emergence of this meme doesn’t come to much of a shock, as his ‘humble’ nature provided a refreshing facet to the pageantry of Biden’s inauguration. 

 Bernie’s stance, combined with the general appearance of a lack of interest, felt like an assumed rejection to the self-congratulatory mood of the inauguration. Sanders himself responded to the meme on late night with Seth Meyers, explaining that he was just, “sitting there, trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on., so this obviously wasn’t an active attempt to ‘comment’ on the inauguration, but as with any cultural moment, the people make of it what they want.

 While the concept of the meme itself seems lighthearted, the utilization has been telling. At the heart of this meme, there is an immense display of reality for millions of working people. 

Ranging from moderate Democrats to the entire spectrum of the Left, this meme has become a massive cultural takeaway from the historical events on the 20th. Although this may seem like some sort of unity, the image itself takes on a variety of meanings depending on the differing viewpoints. Those who align themselves with a more moderate/centrist viewpoint have treated this image as a mere joke, seeing the surface level of a meme about an old and frigid ‘socialist’. 

For those who align with progressive politics, such as social Democrats, it signifies an apparent defeat and melancholy outlook to the new presidency’s future. As this meme reaches a further left perspective, it maintains the sentiment of defeat and ‘let-down’, but focuses more on a push towards the left rather than Sanders himself. 

This isn’t the first time that an inauguration has spawned a meme with such cultural buzz. The 2016 inauguration led to the viral video of Richard B Spencer, the man who coined the term ‘alt-right’, getting punched in the face. This came after Spencer’s victory lap at Trump’s inauguration, celebrating a supposed win for reactionary politics and his own white chauvinism.

Both the viral video of Richard B Spencer, and the image of Bernie Sanders, were shared by a similar range of audience, Democrats and Leftists, both symbolizing two different outlooks on these presidencies. While the video of Spencer was a joyous moment for many of those who were inherently ‘anti-trump’, it did signify the fear and genuine panic of Trump’s presidency. 

The meme of Bernie signifies a different reaction to a different presidency, one that does not scream chaos or horror, but thorough disappointment. While many may feel comfort to rejoice in this win against the hellscape that was Trump’s presidency, this feeling of despondency among many lingers. That feeling in contrast to the pandemonium of Trump’s administration, definitely sets the stage for these next four years.

This disappointment is evidently warranted, considering that in a social climate with extreme inequality and declining capitalism, people were hoping for a transformative government.

Biden does not fulfill that need, and represents the milquetoast neoliberal ‘compromise’ for this election. Whether it is the people’s disappointment within Bernie’s own loss of the presidency, or the broader concept of a loss of anything to the Left, this meme has a weighty truth to it. 

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