There’s a Whole Lot of Crazy People in America

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Years ago the political blogosphere became overwhelmed by the growing popularity of Outrage of the Day™ blogging. These days there are usually four or five of these stories each day, all of them covered by the usual suspects before they move on to the next day’s outrages and all of them following a familiar pattern. Basically, somebody somewhere said something dumb/outrageous/offensive/whatever, which means we’re all going to spend the day explaining exactly why the remark was dumb/outrageous/offensive/whatever and why we’re personally outraged/offended/whatever by it.

I do some of this myself, so it’s not like I’m purer than Caesar’s wife here, but for the most part I find it pretty tiresome. However, via Dave Weigel, I learn today that David Wong has solved a problem for me: what to call this phenomenon. “Outrage of the Day” has never felt quite right, but I’ve never taken the time to figure out a better handle for it. Here’s Wong, in his listicle of “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds”:

#2. The Headline Is About a “Lawmaker” Saying Something Stupid

In every single group of human beings, you have a certain percentage of crazy shitheads. Find me an organization of a million charity workers who have devoted their lives to saving homeless golden retrievers, and I’ll bet my life that within that group I can find a faction of crazy shitheads.

….So if you see a headline citing something a “lawmaker” said, the first thing you should know is if it’s someone with actual power with implications on policy (i.e., a senator stating how he or she is going to vote on upcoming legislation) or if it’s simply a nobody who’s being held up as the Crazy Shithead of the Week (CSotW).

For instance, in the headline earlier about the CSotW comparing rape to a flat tire, the crazy shithead was a member of the Kansas state legislature — one of 165 members of the body that makes laws in Kansas. This guy is so hugely important that it took a whopping five thousand votes to elect him. You could fit every one of his supporters in a high school gym. Which is to say, he has just slightly more power to enact law than you do. And none outside of Kansas.

Wong’s point in the first paragraph is one that I usually refer to as the “300 million person problem.” The United States has a population of over 300 million, and that’s a number so vast that you can always find a large number of people doing some particular thing, no matter how stupid it is. Interest groups take advantage of this all the time, filling their monthly newsletters with outrages against common decency even though most of these outrages are, in fact, vanishingly rare. But in a population of 300 million, even 0.0000001% of the population amounts to 30 separate people doing 30 separate outrageous things every month. That’s plenty for a newsletter.

As for the rest, my only change would be to replace week with day. Or maybe hour. So the acronym probably ought to be CSotH. Welcome to modern politics.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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