In the United States of America, the Covfefe is a common six-word Tweet into which the President’s grubby fingers typed the letters C O V F E F E; the date stamped on the Tweet is 2017. (In the Mojave Desert, near the middle of our present decade, the Covfefe was a green frog riding upon a unicycle; in the United Kingdom, it was a white dress sold in an online retailer, perceived blue by the unbelievers; in Palestine, a fidget spinner that Catherine Hettinger ordered to distract the youth from throwing stones; in the suburbs of Milwaukee, it was a cold one cracked open with the boys; at the top of a nested Tweetstorm, it was time for some game theory.) Today is the 31st of May; last night, as in a dream, the Covfefe came to me. I am not the man I thought I was back then, though I am able to recall, and perhaps to recount, what happened. I am still, however incompletely, Jordan.
In November of 2016, Hillary Clinton disappeared into the woods of Chappaqua. Back then, it seemed the whole world was firmly in her grasp; and every careless misstep, every damning slip of her contender brought her closer to her rightful place in the Oval Office. Election night was dark and filled with dire premonitions. A bona fide clown and charlatan had won the highest seat of our already great nation. A loud contingent of spoilers and vote-splitters committed the unthinkable—they blamed her for her failure. It never occurred to them that it was we, we who had failed her. If we had only been more vigilant, more vicious with our fact-checking; if we had only owned her opposition harder with our posts. Shall I confess that, moved by the sincerest of liberal passions—resistance—I was #StillWithHer? If my lasting legacy in this world is as the man who vigorously defended Hillary Clinton with his life, I would take it in a heartbeat.
It was about nine o’clock, I suppose, when I logged onto Twitter to Resist. Drunk with an impersonal piety, I wandered through my timeline, prepared to defend the honor of the woman I had sworn to protect. The front line of the Resistance is no place for the faint of heart, but this was not my first tour of duty, after all. I clicked a link to the President’s Twitter page; in return I was given the Covfefe.
When the Covfefe first appeared, there had not seemed to be much grounds for controversy. It was a typo, a misspelling; a drunk or clumsy or demented President—why not all three?—had bungled that most elementary task of placing letters in their proper order. It struck me that there is no typo that is not also the symbol of all typos that have been bungled endlessly down through history and Twitter. The thought that in every typo one might discern the secret, twisted logic of the speller seemed to me of vast and cosmic significance. I reflected that there is no form of writing purer, more unmediated than the typo: visceral, reflexive, more muscular than mental. That night I dreamt that I was in a suite in the Mar-a-Lago, bathed in glistening gold beneath a marble inscription that read covfefe.
Only then did it occur to me to wonder what it could mean. There did not seem to be anything distinctive about the word itself: perhaps a misspelling of “coverage,” as suggested by the first three letters and its placing after the word “press.” And yet the following four letters, the enigmatic “fefe,” did not resemble anything like “overage,” beyond the letter e, which is common enough, and the proximity on the keyboard (as well as in the alphabet, that labyrinth of meaning) between f and g. And what to make of the framing of the Tweet—which begins with a “despite,” suggesting a contrasting and subordinate clause? Perhaps the word was the independent clause, the negation of the negation that resolves the dialectic. Stripped of its context, denuded of its substance, the Covfefe took on an ominous aspect. If only I could decode it, if only I could expose it, maybe then the President could be defeated. This was when the Covfefe began to haunt me.
Before last night, the word “covfefe” had appeared only three times in the recorded history of human language. In the ruins of ancient Tartus, by the Russian naval base in Syria, an old stone slab bears that cursed word, believed to be a derivation of the Ottoman Turkish kahve, or the Italian caffè, or maybe both. In a list of registered users for a now-defunct online gambling website, whose domain was hosted until 2013 in the Russian island of Kunashir, covfefe6969 is named. In the lost archives of the Kremlin, it is reported that Soviet administrators of the Gulag prison camps would whisper “covfefe” in the ears of the executioners to determine who would live or die when faced against the firing squad, in mockery of the condemned’s request for a final drink.
I felt that I possessed a great and terrible secret, and the burden was tormenting. So I published my findings to a select group of peers on Twitter. To my dismay, as well as my consolation, it was met with lukewarm response. They did not have the subtlety, nor the sophistication, to discern the crimson thread that linked these utterances—and all the better. Perhaps the world was not ready for such horrible revelations; chaos and panic would ensue. Perhaps I thought that I could spare the world its awful intimations. I resolved that the question of meaning was, in any case, a frivolous consideration: covfefe was merely a symptom, an outward sign, of the dark system that produced it. But I could never purge my mind of the Covfefe.
Time has blurred the features of Hillary Clinton from my memory. She has become a symbol, a historical moment, the passing of history itself. Only now, as she recedes from time, have I come to grasp her full meaning. But as she slips into the world of meaning she escapes the world of matter, the signifier that supplants the signified. Only the Covfefe remains.
The Book of Genesis records that the first words spoken at Creation were Fiat Lux: let there be light. Yet these were only the first words spoken to create light from the void; what were the words spoken to create the void itself? Fiat Lux only had meaning once the void was there to hear it and to respond, and so began the cycle of birth and death: day into night, crop into dust, flesh into rot. It is said that the first utterance spoken in existence was in fact the act of naming that spoke itself into existence, waiting to be answered, for its meaning to be fulfilled.
Now the newsrooms and the newsfeeds are filled with the Covfefe. It is on the televisions and monitors, the mobile phones and tablets, the hearts and minds of humankind. I have said that the Covfefe had appeared three times in human history; but these were cheapened imitations, mere homophones, lacking proper definition. The Covfefe is the meme that creates itself and seeks its own meaning, and in doing so extinguishes its existence. It is the perfect meme, untainted by rational translation, but it is also every meme at once. Covfefe has no attributes, no outer limit, no preexisting meaning. It is the sound of the tree that does not fall until it is heard. Covfefe is the secret, ineffable name of God.
In homage to Borges.