Grumpy Old Man Wins on Inauguration Day

A Momentous Occasion

On January 20th, 2021, at noon Eastern Time, Joe Biden officially became President of the United States. Kamala Harris officially became the first woman, Black, and South Asian Vice President of the United States. And Donald Trump officially left office, though he was likely already back in Florida by that time. Harris made history breaking a glass ceiling for women and PoC. This was the first inauguration in 150 or so years that the outgoing President was not there to welcome the incoming President.

The day was bright and cold in Washington, and the fashion was all about the coats and monochrome outfits. Dr. Jill Biden was decked out in ocean blue, Vice President Harris wore royal purple, former First Lady Michelle Obama won envy and admiration in beautiful head-to-toe burgundy. Amanda Gorman recited her incredible poem in a sunny yellow coat and bright red headband, and a number of other politicians and their families had amazing outfits, all appropriate for the occasion.

The Cherry on Top

But then the most amazing show of fashion arrived at the inauguration ceremony. The one outfit that took over social media for the following weeks was Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) in his army green overcoat, blue surgical face mask, and those massive brown knit mittens, carrying a manila folder. The coat, from a Vermont-based company, was also worn in his much memed “I am once again asking you…” campaign ad from 2020. The mittens were made by a Vermont schoolteacher from old sweaters and fleece originally made from plastic bottles. She sent them to Sanders a couple years ago. While there were a few pictures of Bernie that spread with captions, the most meme-able image was of him sitting in the folding chair, legs crossed, arms crossed, looking very cold, curmudgeonly, and extremely Bernie Sanders.

That image of curmudgeon Bernie in the chair was quickly photoshopped into nearly every possible scenario. He was on the Iron Throne and commanding the Enterprise. He became part of Schitt’s Creek, Sex and the City, Friends, Hamilton, Forrest Gump, The Breakfst Club, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and various famous works of art. You name the image, and there’s a picture of Bernie and his mittens photoshopped in. People have even embroidered and crocheted the image as well. The meme spread like wildfire across every social media platform, followed by memes about the meme, like a cartoon tweeted by The Oatmeal. Suddenly, Bernie was everywhere.

How did this Happen?

Of course, this was not the only meme to come out of the inauguration. There were some about Trump leaving, some about other attendees (in particular, one of Michelle Obama as a Jedi). But the Bernie memes most definitely took over. Part of the reason, besides his popularity among people who are online a lot, is that the image entirely captures the essence of Bernie. He is practical, wearing warm clothes on a cold day, ready to get back to work, and not at all concerned with the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. We relate to him, because he looks like all of us after the 2020 election season – cold, tired, and ready to go home. 

There’s also a level of wholesomeness to the meme that was much needed after so many years of tumultuous news and a day of calls for unity without talk of accountability. In fact, the wholesomeness was piled on by Bernie when he took the image, put it on a sweatshirt, and sold it online for $45 with 100% of the proceeds going towards Meals on Wheels Vermont. These quickly sold out, with a note that they would take 4-8 weeks to deliver “due to overwhelming demand”. That is certainly using your popularity for a good cause.

While this inauguration was historic in many ways and will be remembered for a variety of reasons, let’s hope the craze of the Bernie meme and the joy and fun it brought with it remains one of those reasons.


Dr. Ellen Alexander on Twitter: Inaugural Outfits as Gemstones: A thread 

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