The Neanderthal Controversy Signals the Return of Derp
The flap over Biden comparing governors to Neanderthals takes us back to an earlier era of stupidity in American politics
Out of the foggy mists of time, Neanderthals emerged this week. With them came the dim outlines of a world far distant from the present: the world of 2012.
Suddenly, it is the era of derp again. Derp was the defining complaint about politics in the early teens of the 21st century. With a relatively prosperous country and both parties nominating well-disciplined candidates who were clearly qualified for the Oval Office, the 24-hour cable news cycle needed to cover something. So we got “derp,” a word coined by the creators of South Park that became used to describe the unbearable stupidity of political fights happening for their own sake.
When an entire day in March 2012 was devoted to harsh criticism of Barack Obama for making a historically inaccurate joke about Rutherford B. Hayes’ disdain for the telephone, that was derp. There were no single-issue Rutherford B. Hayes voters. No one criticizing Obama cared about Rutherford B. Hayes. For that matter, no one defending Obama did, either. It was the type of phony juiced-up controversy that defined politics in an era when the defining question asked of Mitt Romney was “What about your gaffes?”
Derp disappeared under Donald Trump. Trump was prone to such outrageous statements and actions that a haze of genuine outrage pushed it from the scene. From his post-Charlottesville comments about “very fine people on both sides” to his suggestion that Americans consider injecting disinfectant to combat Covid-19, Trump’s were jaw-dropping statements. Even his more obscure actions, such as becoming the first president to share white nationalist propaganda on Twitter, would have been reputation-defining for any other politician. But now, with him out of office and off social media, the derp is back.
On Wednesday, President Biden criticized Republican governors for ending mask mandates on the eve of most Americans being able to get vaccinated and with new variants spreading. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything is fine, take off your mask,” said Biden in…