Changing the narrative (at last)

Published 8:48 am Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Community columnist

Us: The country is hopelessly divided. Polarization is at an all-time high. Nothing could possibly bring us together.

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Bernie Sanders: Hold my beer and hand me my mittens.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, put down the paper and go Google “Bernie Sanders mittens.” Go on. I’ll wait.

Sweet, frumpy Bernie Sanders has won the internet with his inauguration ensemble featuring a snuggly coat, cheap surgical mask, and enchanting crocheted mittens. Bernie Sanders is all of us – and we love him.

I am not sure I want to know how many hours I spent scrolling through Bernie mitten memes a couple of weeks ago. They were everywhere. He was everywhere! Bernie sitting with Forrest Gump on a park bench. Bernie chatting with Deadpool. Bernie peeking out from famous paintings, album covers, amusement park rides, and classic movie scenes. Bob Ross painting a “cold little Bernie” with “happy little mittens.”

Heck, I even posed the senior senator from Vermont in front of a couple pieces in the Art Center’s current exhibit.

As I scoured Facebook for more Bernie sightings, a reminder photo popped up. January 21, 2017. There I was, standing in front of the Fayette County Courthouse holding a giant sign emblazoned with the words “Love Trumps Hate.”

The day after the last inauguration, millions of people around the world took to the streets in protest, solidarity, and anguish. We were heartbroken and horrified, struggling to find solace in the company of like-minded souls.

What a contrast. The day after the inauguration of Joe Biden, the headlines were so different. The lead story was an incredible Black poet – the youngest ever to speak at an inauguration. And did she ever speak.

Amanda Gorman stepped up to that podium, lifted her hands, raised her voice, and captivated the entire world. “[B]eing American is more than a pride we inherit // it’s the past we step into // and how we repair it.”

We have so much to repair. Joe gave a great speech, but I’m not totally naïve. The anger and the hate and the fear that motivated 70 million Americans to vote for a narcissistic bigot aren’t going to vanish overnight. The festering margins of society that were nurtured and encouraged from the Oval Office may slink back to the periphery, but they will (sadly) not disappear in a puff of rainbow-colored smoke just because they no longer sit at the right hand of the leader of the free world.

The coronavirus is still raging. The vaccine rollout has been undermined by the failed leadership of the Trump presidency and will need to be drastically reformulated. The economy is a mess.

And yet. Bernie Sanders’ mittens won the Internet on the first day of the Biden presidency. That ridiculous meme felt to me like a collective sigh of a relief. It was the loosening of millions of shoulders that had spent four years hunched in anxiety. It was proof that not everything political has to be apocalyptic.

We are finally changing the narrative. No more crass insults from the commander in chief. No more torrent of lies from the (infrequent) white house press briefings. No more cringing at each new headline that was more awful and globally embarrassing than the last.

We have work to do, but it feels like a new day. Bernie’s mittens may have warmed his hands, but they warmed our hearts. Thanks, Bernie. We needed that.