When it comes to politicians attempting to use memes and slang, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on; it’s almost guaranteed to be a fail. These examples prove it’s time for the politicians to stick to policy and let the slang stay with the cool kids.
Racist jokes are never a good idea. Even if you think it’s funny, if there’s a racist element to the joke, just stop. Don’t go there. You’d think this would be an easy lesson to learn. But it was a lesson forgotten by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio during the 2016 presidential election. The mayor appeared at a dinner with New York politicians, journalists and elected officials, where he participated in a skit to endorse Hillary Clinton. Part of the joke was to make fun of himself for taking so long to make the endorsement, claiming he was on “CP time.” He tried to pass it off as “cautious politician time” but the joke was interpreted as a nod to “colored people time,” a racist slur. Clinton tried to make sure the blame was on the mayor, claiming, “For the record, this is de Blasio's joke, not mine.” It seems Clinton was aware of the damage the joke could do, but de Blasio spent the next few days with spokespeople defending and backpedaling on his “joke.”
Slang and social media fails aren’t limited only to American politicians. In 2010, the Twitter rantings of Scottish parliamentary candidate Stuart MacLennan got him in trouble. Most of the tweets are too foul-mouthed to repeat here, but it turns out that calling his elderly constituents “coffin dodgers” was just a step too far. Then the candidate posted to Twitter, “...the biggest gaffes will likely be made by candidates on Twitter. What are the odds it’ll be me?” This bit of fortune telling came to life, as shortly after that his campaign and Twitter account were both suspended.
Sometimes a word isn’t even slang until the right person uses it. In the case of “covfefe,” President Donald Trump gave us all a new slang term to add to our vocabulary when he tweeted out the nonsense word in the wee hours of the night on May 31, 2017. The tweet was deleted and follow-ups on Twitter poked fun at the mistake, but it didn’t die. The next day, then-press secretary Sean Spicer answered questions about the tweet, saying, "I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” No good answer for the meaning of “covfefe” was ever shared, but the term took on new life as the name of a bill introduced to Congress in 2018, “The Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act (COVFEFE Act)." This would amend the Presidential Records Act to preserve Twitter posts and other social media interactions of the President of the United States, and to require the National Archives to store such items. Covfefe indeed.
Carlos Danger, AKA Anthony Weiner. With an alias so bad that a porn star would be embarrassed to use it, Weiner had to ‘fess up to charges that he was engaging in sexually explicit contact with women online. In June 2013, he was attempting a political comeback by running for mayor of New York City, when it came out that he was using the name Carlos Danger on multiple platforms to send sexually explicit images. Since then Weiner has faced additional charges for communicating with minors, but we miss the simpler days when Carlos Danger just stood for an inappropriate pic.
What may be a vulgar term to you could be an innocent dance move to someone else. This was the excuse given when congressman Stephen Fincher tweeted that he loved shagging, a British slang term for sex. The full tweet read, “God I love this song. And beach music. AND shagging.,” with a link to music site Pandora. Shagging is, indeed, a type of beach dancing popular in the South, so it’s an easy enough mixup to believe. However, Fincher was quick to still blame a staffer, instead of just laughing off the innocent mistake.
Unlike “shagging,” there’s no innocent excuse for this one. In 2014 Bob FitzSimmons, the treasurer for the Virginia Republican Party, learned a big lesson on Facebook. In a post about a primary election, a commenter posted about a female candidate, Barbara Comstock. FitzSimmons, in an incredibly boneheaded move, posted, “I have nothing against Barbara Comstock, but I hate that sexist twat.” FitzSimmons deleted the post and claimed he was attempting to use the word “twaddle.” While it seems far-fetched, but he remained in office, even among calls for his resignation.
One popular meme about Senator Ted Cruz is that he’s the Zodiac Killer. Who knows where this joke got started, but Cruz himself attempted a stab at humor by playing into the joke on Halloween in 2018. Cruz posted a meme on Twitter alluding to codes posted by the Zodiac Killer. Instead of looking like he was one of the cool kids, Cruz just acknowledged that he’s so creepy that people think he’s one of the most notorious serial killers out there! Try again next Halloween.
There’s nothing less funny than having to explain a joke. In 2018, Vice President Mike Pence, at a campaign event for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, attempted to dust off his 15-year-old movie knowledge. He said, “I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door-to-door the other day. Well, I’d like to remind Oprah and Will Ferrell — I'm kind of a big deal, too.” When the audience was less than impressed, Pence doubled down and asked, “Did you get that?” Yes, Mr. Pence. We’ve all seen the movie.
Basket of Deplorables
Just like Trump’s “covfefe,” Hillary Clinton probably didn’t realize she was making slang history when she called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” in a campaign speech in 2016. But the term quickly took off, with Trump supporters adopting the moniker as a matter of pride. The term continued to follow Clinton throughout the campaign and she even called it out in her book “What Happened?” as a reason for her losing the election.
While many praise freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for bringing youth and vitality into the halls of Congress, she’s also gotten flak for her choice of vocabulary. In an interview with The Washington Post about nude photos of her being released, AOC said, "I'm six days into the term, and you already used all your ammo. So enjoy being exhausted for the next two years while we run train on the progressive agenda." While the term “run train” is slang for a crude sexual act, it’s not clear if she meant it in that sense. Either way, the slip of the tongue was plenty of material for conservatives to slam the young congresswomen for her crude language.