Bernie Breaks the Internet…Again


Sen. Bernie Sanders’ outfit at President Biden’s inauguration has become a viral meme. (Courtesy of Twitter)

At President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, distinguished guests wore their finest attire, yet the most prominent fashion statement of the historic day was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ mittens. Not just a practical accessory for the chilly winter day, the senator’s mittens were specially made out of recycled materials by Vermont teacher Jen Ellis


Photojournalist Brendan Smialowski captured a very cold Sanders sporting a practical coat, mittens and a crooked mask, sitting with his arms and legs crossed. Sanders was unaware that the photo was being snapped, as he was “just sitting there trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on.” Unsurprisingly, Smialowski’s snapshot of Sanders went viral. Sanders’s unimpressed expression has been photoshopped with the cast of “Friends,” placed on the Iron Throne and seated next to Forrest Gump. 


This is not the first time that Sanders has made a mark in meme history. Just a few months ago, a video of him “once again asking for your financial support” (in a suspiciously similar-looking coat) went viral and was endlessly riffed.  


It should not come as a surprise that Sanders has risen to meme stardom several times due to his popularity among younger demographics. After four years of using memes to make light out of dire political situations, younger generations are relieved that there is now a meme to laugh about simply because it’s funny. 


Whereas the vast majority of Americans distrust nearly every politician, there’s something wholesome and trustworthy about Sanders. I don’t know what it is about him; maybe it’s the fact that his views have hardly wavered over his decades-long political career or that everything he says is laced with passion and sincerity. But I do know that, while I don’t agree with everything he says, I trust that he really cares about the people he serves. 


The new Sanders meme only adds to my warm perception of him. Shortly after his picture went viral, Sanders’ team released a new “Chairman Sanders Collection” of tees and sweatshirts featuring the iconic snap. Better yet, Sanders is donating all of the profits from this collection to several Vermont-based charities, an effort that has already raised millions of dollars


What does it mean that one of the biggest stories on a historic Inauguration Day is about Sanders and his mittens? It means that people are ready for some levity, some small break from the seemingly endless deluge of chaos. The viral sensation is a brief distraction from our nation’s problems and the mountain of work that needs to be done to rectify them. The meme adds to the celebration of Inauguration Day and a new beginning. 


One could argue that Sanders is making a statement with his choice of practical, somewhat casual wear on a day dotted with designers. It would certainly be on-brand for a man who has criticized the financial decisions of the wealthy for generations, but I don’t think that is what he is doing here. As Smialowski said, the photo is “just Bernie being Bernie.” 


Bernie’s iconic pose and outfit don’t fix any of our country’s problems, but that’s okay. After four chaotic years, it’s hard to remember that not everything related to politics has to be a wild controversy. This meme provided a bit of desperately needed respite before the country gets to work under a new administration. 


Nicole Braun, FCRH ’24, is undecided and from Saddle River, N.J.