In the early stages of the pandemic, the Ghanaian pallbearers were an inescapable meme. Intercutting footage from a BBC documentary about dancing Ghanaian pallbearers with people who openly displayed their hubris about COVID-19 was a way to deal with the stress of our country’s lackluster response to the virus. The dancers embraced this meme, making a PSA in their native country to say that if you weren’t going to be a mask, you should be prepared to dance with them.
Over time, fresh new horrors replaced the Ghanaian pallbearers in our public consciousness. Rising unrest over the murders of black people by the police became a flashpoint for public demonstration, and a new boogeyman for conservatives to wring their hands over. The protests and protest-backlash have flowed straight into the unending nightmare of the election season. We never forgot about the threat of COVID-19, but the Ghanaian pallbearers drifted from our memory.
The Ghanaian pallbearers never forgot about us, though. They were lying in wait for this extremely ironic moment: Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed COVID-19, has COVID-19.
The Ghanaian pallbearer meme has become such a defining part of the 2020 experience that its reappearance is like seeing the sun again after a long winter. I feel so empowered by these harbingers of death, these African men that are here to remind us all of our hubris. It seems other people on Twitter share my opinion; searching for “coffin dance trump” on Twitter brings up dozens of people who need to see Trump reap what he has sown, many of them in the replies to Trump’s tweet about contracting the virus.
Donald Trump is the president of the United States, meaning that in all likelihood he will receive the best medical treatment available and be fine. But in this moment, at a time when it seemed like he would not face any consequences for allowing hundreds of thousands of people to die, the inevitability of the Ghanaian pallbearer meme is what brings me comfort. When they appear, I know that death is impartial. It does not care how powerful you are. It just comes, for everyone, whether you like it or not.