When Jared Schmeck dialed up NORAD’s Santa tracker on Christmas Eve, the 35-year-old Oregon father reportedly didn’t know his family’s call would be answered from the White House by President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden. That means Schmeck decided in real time to insult the president with “Let’s go, Brandon,” which has become a stand-in for a profane dismissal of the president.
Schmeck apparently decided in real time to insult the president with "Let’s go, Brandon," which has become a stand-in for a profane dismissal of the president.
In the opening pages of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenzer Scrooge’s nephew Fred says, “I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”
You would think a father gathering his children around him to call and check on Santa’s whereabouts would be full of some of the kindness, charity and pleasantness described above. But Schmeck’s instinct to go vulgar (even if euphemistically so) perfectly illustrates the coarseness of our times and the pervasive belief that every moment is a political moment. It also demonstrates a cynicism that has rendered so many incapable of recognizing sweet moments or responding in kind to sincere expressions of good will.
It was a sweet moment — at least initially. The Bidens cheerily chatted with the Schmecks, asked what toys the children wanted most and warned that Santa wouldn’t be able to come if they didn’t hurry to bed.
Then, responding to the Bidens wishing them a merry Christmas, Schmeck said, “I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas as well. Merry Christmas, and let’s go, Brandon!”
Nobody who has been in politics as long as the Bidens have get there without knowing how to skillfully ignore provocation, and in that instant, the Bidens pretended not to know what Schmeck meant. The president responded, “Let’s go, Brandon. I agree.” They attempted to continue chatting with Schmeck, but the line was dead.
Schmeck told The Oregonian that he didn’t hang up, but the call was disconnected. As it should have been. A mature adult doesn’t respond to someone wishing his family well with such meanness of spirit.
But meanness of spirit has become all too common in our country, and it is often accompanied by the needless invocation of politics. The worst example is probably then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 address to the Boy Scouts jamboree, during which he criticized the media and former President Barack Obama and bragged about the states he’d flipped from blue to red. Instead of categorically rejecting such boorishness, we’re heading into 2022 with far too many people having normalized such bad manners.
A mature adult doesn’t respond to someone wishing his family well with such meanness of spirit.
Schmeck, who’s been rightfully criticized for his unprovoked insult, wants us to believe that A. he meant “no disrespect” to Biden; B. he is frustrated with the president’s policies; C. he knows what “Let’s go, Brandon” means but didn’t mean it that way; and D. he isn’t “simple-minded.”
Imagine having to argue that you’re not simple-minded.
Schmeck, who told The Oregonian he is “being attacked for utilizing my freedom of speech,” doesn’t seem to appreciate that what he describes as attacks are instances of other people utilizing their freedom of speech. Nor does he seem to appreciate that if what people are saying to him amounts to an attack, then so does what he said to the Bidens.
But let’s make it clear for those people who, unlike Schmeck, really are simple-minded: The argument isn’t that he didn’t have the right to insult the president, only that he was churlish and childish to do so.
When Fred speaks to his Uncle Scrooge of people opening up their shut-up hearts and becoming charitable, he means them becoming so toward people who are poor; he means them acknowledging “people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
But a modern-day “A Christmas Carol” might ask us to think of Christmastime as a moment in which we’re at least courteous (if not charitable) to those with whom we disagree and that we not consider anybody who sincerely wishes us “Merry Christmas” — no matter their politics — unworthy of a sincere “Merry Christmas” in return.