It’s here! It’s Election Day, in a year that that will surely prove my maxim that there’s no such thing as an off-year election. Here in my home state of Pennsylvania, dozens of localities are voting in school board races that may decide how and even whether racism is taught, while statewide judicial contests could determine women’s future reproductive rights. There is no excuse for not voting today. See you at the polls.

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PS: Avid readers of this newsletter know that I am always looking for questions for the Ask Me Anything section. Send me an e-mail with your questions and it could be featured in a future newsletter.

If only GOP loved pre-K as much as its juvenile, coded Joe Biden expletive

In America’s tortured autumn of 2021, both the Democratic and Republican Parties have embarked on major projects. Democrats, guided by President Biden, are struggling on Capitol Hill to pass a sweeping economic agenda that would include universal pre-kindergarten, an assault on climate change, and extending tax credits for middle-class families. The GOP, for its part, wants every American to hear the chant, “Let’s Go Brandon.

OK, if you’re a normal red-blooded American who watches pro wrestling or Real Housewives instead of MSNBC all day, you may already have some questions. Let’s try to answer them.

First and foremost, “Let’s Go Brandon” has nothing to do with Brandon (who’s Brandon? ... I’m getting to that). It means a 4-letter expletive directed at President Biden.

Here’s what happened. Exactly one month ago, a NASCAR driver named Brandon Brown won a big race at Alabama’s Talladega speedway. As an NBC reporter interviewed Brown, a gaggle of NASCAR fans — not wanting to disappoint America’s lowest stereotype of NASCAR fans — chanted obscenities at Biden, clearly audible on national TV. The either flustered or confused journalist then said that you could hear the crowd chanting, “Let’s Go Brandon!”

Sure, that response — not the original chant — was kind of funny in the moment, but to the right-wing movement, this episode did two not-so-funny things. They claimed “Let’s Go Brandon” was emblematic of how they believe the press constantly covers up for Biden. And it gave the deep thinkers of the GOP a way to finally do something that had been so easy for them with the Black president Barack Obama or the female candidate Hillary Clinton but harder in 2021: Demonize an avuncular white guy in Joe Biden.

Over the last four weeks, “Let’s Go Brandon” has been heard everywhere — the title of a song on the Billboard Hot 100, as background noise at college football or NHL hockey or wherever else white dudes can be found. It’s shown up on the expensive gear ceaselessly promoted by huckster and former U.S. president Donald Trump, was tweeted out by the governor of the nation’s second-largest state, Greg Abbott of Texas, and worn into the U.S. Capitol on a face mark by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. When an AP journalist reported the pilot of her Southwest Airlines passenger jet in Texas uttered “Let’s Go Brandon” at the end of his pre-flight shtick, there were calls on the left for the pilot’s firing, or maybe a boycott. NBC News reported late Monday that “Let’s Go Brandon” is turning up on gun parts and ammo.

Look, vulgarity in U.S. politics neither started nor ended on that Alabama racetrack, and it’s more than fair for conservatives to point to the multiple times since 2016 that public figures said the exact same curse word toward Donald Trump. Though most of those were cultural figures like Robert De Niro and rarely a politician (Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s shocking yet obscene prediction that “we’re going to impeach the ...” 45th president was a rare exception). I don’t think that Democrats need to head for the fainting couch here.

» READ MORE: If this was 1979, Biden would be wildly popular | Will Bunch Newsletter

That said, the embrace of “Let’s Go Brandon” by party leaders — aside from Trump, who’s hopeless — like members of Congress and the GOP’s biggest-state governor does raise some questions. The next time someone like Rep. Duncan wears a “Let’s Go Brandon” mask, or the phrase is spoken on the House floor, I’d love to see an enterprising CNN reporter ask, “Can you tell the American people why directing an obscenity at the president of the United States is your most important message today?”

I don’t think Duncan or Abbott would know what to say, because “Let’s Go Brandon” is the perfect metaphor for a political party that won’t talk honestly with the American people and that constantly goes to its obscure white cultural grievances against the media or political elites. That’s because resentment politics has kept the GOP afloat for several decades despite no political agenda beyond tax cuts for billionaires and deregulating pollution.

Think about it. For all the understandable focus on the political gamesmanship of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the biggest obstacle to getting America to take climate change seriously, or offer the kind of paid family leave that exists in every other developed county, or tackle the nation’s woeful under-performance on child care or free public higher education, is because there are zero GOP votes for these things. They don’t want voters to think about their failure to govern. They’d rather hide behind the juvenile smirk of their own-the-libs inside joke. When Republicans chant “Let’s Go Brandon,” they are not really hurling a 4-letter crudity toward Biden, but at the American people.

Yo, do this

  • Sometimes tradition trumps everything — and I mean everything. I was born into an America where baseball’s World Series was played in daylight and it was something of a national holiday. I’ve watched the bulk of every Fall Classic since 1968, but, man oh man, does Major League Baseball make it hard, with the 4-hour games that end way past my geriatric bedtime. And now we’re seeing the sport’s two most unlikable franchises — the trash-can-cheating Houston Astros and the tomahawk-choppin’ Atlanta Braves. Still, watch tonight’s Game 6 and root for magic moments by hot individual players like the Braves’ Eddie Rosario or the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez — because it’s not their fault.

  • Among the many things that make me feel like a dunce is that I was clueless about the importance of the leftist anthropologist David Graeber — quiet mastermind of 2011′s Occupy Wall Street protests — until his sudden, untimely death in 2020 at age 59. Now, his final work, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, cowritten with David Wengrow, has been published and critics are already calling it a game-changer that will alter the way you think about how human society is organized, and what kind of world is possible. I can’t wait to read it.

Ask me anything

Question: The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is happening. I think that’s important. If you don’t, is it because you think nothing will be accomplished there? — Via @BerksGasTruth on Twitter

Answer: Good question. I’ve written about climate change these last four years more than a lot of columnists, yet probably not as much as I should. I think the ongoing summit of world leaders in Glasgow, Scotland, with the wildly non-descriptive name of COP26, is hard to fully understand even for folks who care a lot about ending greenhouse-gas pollution. Global cooperation is essential to staving off the worst of the crisis, but too much of the speechifying comes off as political posturing — even from President Biden, who’s pushing many of the right future things but just can’t quit Big Oil production in the present. I tend to keep an equally close eye on youth protesters like the current hunger strikers in Washington, D.C., because I think Generation Z may prove a greater catalyst for real change than the last kings of Scotland.

Backstory

Over the weekend, critics immediately bashed a story out of Florida as a shocking assault on academic freedom — and those critics weren’t wrong. The University of Florida acknowledged that it is blocking three faculty members from serving as expert witnesses in a major voting rights lawsuit against a new Sunshine State law, because it would place them at odds with Republican governor Ron DeSantis. The move would obliterate the professors’ First Amendment rights — the government using its authority to restrain their viewpoint — and goes against past legal precedents. An author of two books on academic freedom called UF’s stance “crazy” — but the problem in Florida and many other states runs much deeper. The gross politicization of our state universities is increasingly a threat to the basic mission of academia.

» READ MORE: Campus ‘Red Scare’ takes Florida back to the ’50s | Will Bunch Newsletter

In Florida, as in several other states, DeSantis has appointed a chair of the University of Florida’s board of trustees, Morteza Hosseini, whose greatest qualification seems to be the amounts of money he’s donated to the Republican Party. Just weeks before the academic freedom flap, Hosseini was credited with using his influence to quickly secure a high-paying UF position for DeSantis’ new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Lapido, whose unconventional views on responding to COVID-19 are in line with the GOP governor — but not most public health experts.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a heavy Republican board of trustees that includes the state GOP’s billionaire patron, Art Pope, has been accused of politicizing the University of North Carolina. This lead to the recent move to block tenure for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, after complaints about her 1619 Project on America’s racial history. In an era when the Republican Party is increasingly positioning itself as not just the anti-college but an anti-knowledge party, political meddling in universities has become a systemic problem — and the biggest threat to learning and the free exchange of ideas since the heyday of Joe McCarthy.

Inquirer reading list

  • No story has better summed up where America is at in 2021 — the bitter “culture wars,” the constant angling for any political edge, backed by big bucks — than the rise of the overheated school board election. In my Sunday column, I looked at how the fight over anti-racism education that Republicans are calling “indoctrination” has roused Pennsylvania’s wealthiest suburb, Lower Merion — led by a Gladwyne mom whose outrage over a “whiteness” book has made her a star on Fox News.

  • Over the weekend, I wrote about the growing threat of violence from the political right — which bubbled over in a deadly shooting at an Idaho mall — against the backdrop of the high-profile Kyle Rittenhouse trial that began this week. In the case of a teenage vigilante who killed two people and wounded a third on his August 2020 adventure in strife-torn Kenosha, Wisconsin, a successful self-defense argument from Team Rittenhouse could create a hero for violent extremists at the worst possible moment.

  • Rural Butler, Pa., usually isn’t on the itinerary of a newsroom’s Washington correspondent, but the child-custody case of Sean Parnell, the Donald Trump-endorsed leading candidate for the 2022 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, was no ordinary family matter. That’s why The Inquirer’s D.C. ace Jonathan Tamari was in the room as Laurie Parnell testified that her estranged husband attempted to choke her and struck their children — a possible death knell to his political fortunes. It’s not cheap to hire the best reporters and send them to where the news is, but that’s the only way to keep the public fully informed. Please support this mission by subscribing to The Inquirer.