Hillary Clinton is apparently preparing a Thursday speech that will lay out Donald Trump’s ties to the so-called “alt-right” movement, the online community of far-right white nationalists—or, more succinctly, racists—that the Trump campaign has cultivated in a big way. One major alt-right gathering place is r/The_Donald, the toxic “subreddit” message board whose loyalty Trump recently rewarded with an exclusive Q&A. In anticipation of Clinton’s speech, I spent some time perusing r/The_Donald recently and noticed that its posters use one particular word a lot as a term of praise: based. (Well, they use several particular words a lot, including cuck, bitch, cunt, and faggot. But also based.) To wit, this post praising Vladimir Putin as “Based Putin” for understanding the dangers of the global sharia conspiracy:
This usage trend is an ironic one, particularly in light of Trump’s recent habit of describing black communities as dystopian hellscapes. The word based originally had a pejorative meaning derived from basehead, a slang term for someone who’s addicted to freebasing cocaine. The first use of basehead that comes up in the Nexis news database is from a 1986 segment on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour:
MICHELS [voice-over]: On a major thoroughfare in East Oakland, three young women, none of them yet graduated from high school, pass the time.
TEENAGER: Everybody into cocaine nowadays. There’s so many baseheads out here.
Saying someone is based, then, could have been like saying they are cracked out. But that definition was turned on its head in recent years by rapper Lil B, who is also known as “the Based God.” The 2007 debut album of his group, the Pack, was called Based Boys; here, in a 2010 Complex magazine interview, he explains his based revisionism:
Complex: What’s your definition of “based,” because you say that with everything. What does that mean?
Lil B: Based means being yourself. Not being scared of what people think about you. Not being afraid to do what you wanna do. Being positive. When I was younger, based was a negative term that meant like dopehead, or basehead. People used to make fun of me. They was like, “You’re based.” They’d use it as a negative. And what I did was turn that negative into a positive. I started embracing it like, “Yeah, I’m based.” I made it mine. I embedded it in my head. Based is positive.
Lil B is a particularly internet-friendly artist, and based became—in its positive incarnation—a common piece of online slang and a component of a popular meme:
(Don’t ask me to explain the meme. I’m 34, I have no idea.)
During the 2014 Gamergate debate/debacle, internet misogynists began calling conservative critic Christina Hoff Sommers “Based Mom.” And now, in 2016, based is the preferred term of praise in an internet community of white nationalists. Another example:
Only in America!