“I Think About This a Lot” is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
In a discussion about job creation spanning “infrastructure to coding” at a July 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign rally, the then-candidate introduced an idea for an app-based video game. “I don’t know who created Pokémon Go,” she said. Oh no. “But I’m trying to figure out,” don’t do it, “how we get them to have,” oh God … “Pokémon Go to the polls.”
Hearts stopped. The ground shook. Birds fell from the sky and began commuting by foot; aquatic life emerged from the sea with only one question on their fish lips: Why? The final words were delivered in the stilted speech pattern politicians generally use to implore crowds to take action like “Go to the polls” but with a palpable hesitation. If there was someone out there who knew why Hillary Clinton was saying the words “Pokémon Go to the polls,” it did not seem to be Hillary Clinton — and it certainly wasn’t the fish.
“Pokémon Go to the polls” has lived with me ever since. Of course, the horrifying goings-on of national politics give a person ample opportunity to think about “going to the polls” and then, naturally, Pokémon Go-ing to them. But my mindworm unfortunately does not stop there. “I should Pokémon Go to the store,” I’ll think to myself. “Do you need to Pokémon Go for a walk?” I’ll ask my dog. I’ll text a friend, “Pokémon Go to the polls.” He’ll text back, “Pokémon Go to the polls.”
The phrase was upsetting at first. Donald Trump was running for president — president! — and our best defense against him was standing onstage imploring us to “Pokémon Go to the polls.” A non-ideal situation. And let me be clear: I wanted Hillary to win. Not begrudgingly, not holding my nose. I was excited to vote for her, and I wanted her to win. I couldn’t wait to Pokémon Go to the polls. But I suppose, at that moment, we should have seen what was coming. We should have seen that we were Pokémon Go-ing to hell.
Trump soon shared a video on Facebook of a game called Crookéd Hillary NO, wherein an unseen player pitched a Poké Ball at, and subsequently caught, a Hillary Pokémon, bringing up a view of her Pokédex page. (The Pokédex is sort of like an in-game Pokémon encyclopedia, not to insult you with the clarification.) Career Politician, it said. 30,000 emails deleted. Often found lying to the American people, rigging the system, and sharing TOP SECRET emails. The video has over 13 million views. Produced and circulated during his campaign, it’s of an oddly higher quality than the hasty, pixilated, rarely coherent memes that have come out of his administration. It is clear his team has Pokémon Go-tten a little too comfortable.
Clinton was Poké-mocked and memed by non-supporters and supporters alike. Still, a pro-Hillary defense arose: The idea that if Bernie Sanders had said something like “Pokémon Go to the polls,” people would have cut him slack. They would have thought it was charming, maybe they would have even thought it was funny. And while it’s hard enough to imagine we live in a world where one presidential candidate said “Pokémon Go to the polls,” let alone two, I think there’s a bit of truth to this. If a man says something funny, people tend to assume the humor was intentional; women aren’t always afforded this assumption. Do I think Hillary Clinton understood the potential humor to be found in Hillary Clinton saying something like “Pokémon Go to the polls”? Well. Let’s just say that whether she did or she didn’t doesn’t make my point any less valid.
Regardless, it was indeed Hillary who said “Pokémon Go to the polls,” and it was, in fact, the American public who did not heed what was implicit in her command: that we Pokémon Go to the polls and vote for her, specifically in a way that would allow her to win the Electoral College.
Donald Trump was instead elected president. Our “evolution” as a nation ground to a halt, Pokémonically speaking. The phrase has morphed in my life from an unpleasant memory to a prescient warning. I beg you, listen to the dreaded whisper of the past. Take heart. On Tuesday, if you haven’t voted early or by mail, please … Pokémon Go to the polls.