There is a sad fact in the United States that has been true for at least the past 20 years, and perhaps longer. Half the country hates the sitting president. While that may have been true throughout much of our democracy’s history, social media has allowed for open contempt to be spread amongst the masses.
That was certainly the case following President Joe Biden’s town hall in Baltimore on Thursday evening, which was organized by CNN and hosted by Anderson Cooper. During the event the president discussed several topics, including China’s increased aggression against Taiwan, his efforts to abolish the Senate filibuster and the current high price of gasoline. Yet, on Friday, instead of Biden’s message making the rounds; it was open mockery of his performance.
It is not new news that Biden is a gaffe machine, a fact he’s acknowledge many times. But it wasn’t just the words he said that were called into question, but his stance, demeanor and appearance were widely mocked. As Newsweek reported, after being asked about the high price of gasoline, Biden was slow to respond and maintained an unusual posture: “In the near 20 seconds it took the host to tee up the question, Biden held his forearms out, with his elbows at right angles and fists clenched.”
The hashtag #IncoherentJoe was trending on Friday morning, along with #cornholio, a reference to the 1990s era MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead, while others suggested the president was holding an “imaginary jet pack.”
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Another odd moment at the town hall occurred Biden made the misleading statement, “You have 55 corporations, for example, in the United States of America, making over $40 billion, don’t pay a cent—not a single little red cent,” and to emphasize the point as he whispered “don’t pay a cent,” he made a circle with his index finger and thumb. That moment was also shared on social media.
There were those who came to the defense of Biden, but by putting former President Donald Trump in the spotlight.
“Imagine spending four years supporting Trump while he incoherently babbled his way to destroying America, but then turning around and pretending a strong leader like President Joe Biden doesn’t know what he’s talking about. These right wingers are just braindead. #IncoherentJoe,” tweeted the liberal fake news website Palmer Report (@PalmerReport).
Other tweets played like a highlight reel to Trump’s low points:
Such reactions to the person holding the highest office in the land certainly showed a lack of respect for said office, but the question could be asked whether it could even weaken America’s standing.
“President Biden’s performance was indeed sad and not what many would argue a display befitting a strong leader of the free world,” said Harry Kazianis, senior director at the Center for the National Interest.
“However, for whatever reason, stating in the Clinton years, pundits and so-called experts feel they can say whatever they want about our commander and chief—lob any insult or any accusation no matter or insane or insulting it sounds,” added Kazianis. “And going into the Trump years it had gotten far worse. At one point do we say enough is enough?”
While it likely won’t stop, Professor David Jacobson, J.D., the executive/academic director of working professional education teaching global business strategy to MBAs and online MBAs in the Cox School of Business at SMU, warned that it could make us look stupid.
“But it isn’t just happening in the United States anymore, we’re seeing this sort of response in France, Germany, and the UK. Even in Japan and Australia you see this same sort of stuff being posted. And it is a shame, because in the free world it is undermining our leaders.”
Where it isn’t happening as much is in countries that have cracked down on free expression on social media.
“It happens a bit in Russia, but it would never happen in China or North Korea – and it only squeaks through in Iran and Egypt. However, there are other ways to mock the leaders, such as the use of Winnie the Pooh to mock Xi in China,” added Jacobson.
So why do we see this with such hatred and anger in the United States?
“Well, one part is that people feel powerless and need to voice some of their frustration,” explained Jacobson. “But we’ve also been manipulated as Russian agents are posing as grassroots groups to undermine our government. As soon as the hashtag #IncoherentJoe was posted, it was amplified by those in Russia, China or Iran – including their state security forces to make us look bad.”
Those foreign powers have done a very good job at using social media to widen our divide.
“That is the unfortunate part,” said Jacobson. “Many don’t believe that this is being done by foreign entities, because we have been set up to be competitive. But 50 years ago you could be golfing buddies with those on the other side. Today, we distrust and hate them. This undermining was created by Russian State Security and others. It is unfortunately working.”