Keeping Americans “Mad As Hell” 24/7

I don’t regularly read Mother Jones, so I had missed a profoundly important analysis by Kevin Drum that ran in that publication last October. I’m indebted to Gerald Stinson for sharing it.

Drum asks: why are Americans so angry? He notes that the anger is almost entirely political (most of us aren’t mad at our families, friends, plumbers)…

Research suggests that our “national temper tantrum” began in 2000, and Drum methodically investigates–and discards– the usual explanations for that vitriol. He demonstrates that Americans are no more addicted to conspiracy theories than we ever were, for example. (Hofstadter wrote about American paranoia back in 1964, after all.)

He also discounts the role of social media, while acknowledging that–like all new forms of communication–it has had a political effect. When we examine how social media affects what we learn about politics, he writes:

This obviously depends on how much political news we get from social media in the first place, which turns out to be surprisingly little—at least when it comes to actual articles or broadcast segments, not hot takes from your Uncle Bob.

And then there’s that pesky timeline: social media can’t explain something that started 20 years ago.

Drum also makes short shrift of the argument that we’re all mad because everything has gotten worse. It hasn’t, and he shares data showing that Americans’ opinions on virtually every aspect of our communal lives has remained constant–albeit with two very troubling exceptions. One is the rise of White grievance:

White respondents believe that anti-white bias has been steadily increasing. And the American National Election Studies, among other polls, have showed this belief in so-called reverse racism is overwhelmingly driven by white Republicans. This trend starts before 2000, but it’s growing and is an obvious candidate to explain rising white anger—as long as there’s something around to keep it front and center in the minds of white people.

The other is a precipitous collapse of trust in government.

If the “usual suspects” don’t explain our current fears, hatreds and political divisions, what does? Drum’s conclusion: Fox News.

When it debuted in 1996, Fox News was an afterthought in Republican politics. But after switching to a more hardline conservatism in the late ’90s it quickly attracted viewership from more than a third of all Republicans by the early 2000s. And as anyone who’s watched Fox knows, its fundamental message is rage at what liberals are doing to our country. Over the years the specific message has changed with the times—from terrorism to open borders to Benghazi to Christian cake bakers to critical race theory—but it’s always about what liberal politicians are doing to cripple America, usually with a large dose of thinly veiled racism to give it emotional heft.

As Drum notes, rage toward Democrats means more votes for Republicans. Creating that rage is what Fox does.

As far back as 2007 researchers learned that the mere presence of Fox News on a cable system increased Republican vote share by nearly 1 percent. A more recent study estimates that a minuscule 150 seconds per week of watching Fox News can increase the Republican vote share. In a study of real-life impact, researchers found that this means the mere existence of Fox News on a cable system induced somewhere between 3 and 8 percent of non-Republicans to vote for the Republican Party in the 2000 presidential election. A more recent study estimates that Fox News produced a Republican increase of 3.59 points in the 2004 share of the two-party presidential vote and 6.34 points in 2008. That’s impact.

As we saw earlier, the past couple of decades have seen a steady increase in the belief among white people—particularly Republicans—that anti-white bias is a serious problem. Fox News has stoked this fear almost since the beginning, culminating this year in Tucker’s full-throated embrace of the white supremacist “replacement theory” and the seemingly 24/7 campaign against critical race theory and its alleged impact on white schoolkids. This is certainly not all that Fox News does, but it’s a big part of its pitch, and it fits hand in glove with Trump’s appeal to white racism…

Thanks to Fox News, conservative trust in government is so low that Republican partisans can easily believe Democrats have cheated on a mass scale, and white evangelicals in particular are willing to fight with the spirit of someone literally facing Armageddon.

You really need to read the whole, lengthy analysis.

Drum concludes “It is Fox News that has torched the American political system over the past two decades, and it is Fox News that we have to continue to fight.”

But he doesn’t tell us how.


  1. Thanks. Very true. But lets remember the hate radio that came before Fox TV. And lets remember Ron Reagan preaching how the government is your enemy. And lets remember Newt preaching that Democrats were EVIL. This cake has been baking for 40 years. The HOW to change it: Perhaps – just perhaps – the business community MIGHT want to quit funding the destruction of our nation. That is my hope.

  2. I think Pat, ‘hit the nail on the head pretty well this morning!’

    Rush Limbaugh, Fox news, they were social media before there really was a huge social media infrastructure as we have today. I knew people who sat in front of Fox News or listened to Rush Limbaugh faithfully as long as they could during the day or even recorded them.

    And, I don’t think anyone can mistake the fact that society as we know it is disintegrating! Chicago has 60 or 70 shootings every weekend, sometimes as many as 20 or 30 killed or wounded. And that’s every single weekend!

    Government is neutered when it comes to weapons control, it’s also neutered by the media! The news can’t be the news! But the news seems to love to be the news. And that is a shame, report it, don’t be it!

    We’ve heard the saying, beating a dead horse? The news media does that constantly, they beat the Dead horse! That horse is dead! But as it’s rotting they’re still beating it! Why? Every organization that claims to be a herald, wants to out freak the other! And to drag one specific issue out for weeks and months is not helpful to anything. They become so single minded, they find it’s easy to whip up fanaticism on all sides by sticking to one specific story. Then, that story takes precedent over everything else, all other stories. No one hears the true News.

    The media needs to just report the news and let people come to their own conclusions. Not brainwash the population one way or the other! But it seems, the media is in the brainwashing business and not the news reporting business.

  3. “He also discounts the role of social media, while acknowledging that–like all new forms of communication–it has had a political effect.”

    This observation makes me skeptical about the analysis. I don’t know how anyone could discount the role of social media in getting people, particularly those on the right, “mad as hell” about politics. It’s THE number one factor by far. The social media logarithms result in people getting fed selective information, or disinformation, that makes them angry about the other side. They’re not getting the truth or even balanced information from these social media outlets. Social media is making them radicalized.

    Fox News is a bit player compared to the combined effect of these social media outlets. Fox is bad, but it’s hardly the worst of the right wing TV networks. And at least with Fox, there is some limit in the claims they will air. Fox doesn’t want to get sued. When it comes to social media outlets, they are legally protected from being sued for the content they allow published on their websites.

  4. Kevin occasionally does decent work for MJ, but their allegiance to the Democratic Party has lost its credibility with Lefties who followed MJ for decades. I rarely see it mentioned on Twitter any longer because it’s irrelevant.

    Once again, what happened in PA within the Democratic Party primaries is a litmus test for the country. Despite being outspent by wide margins, voters dismissed the Manchin/Sinema Democrats.

    I wouldn’t waste two minutes voting for another lite Democrat again. Ever.

    We don’t need to rehash how the Kochs scooped up the Tea Party and made it into the modern-day GOP, beginning with Reagan/Thatcher and neoliberalism.

    We need solutions that aren’t the Democratic Party because they are part of the problem and their corrupt union apparatchiks. All employees need unions formed from the bottom up, and we need a real informative press that supports the people and the planet.

    All the cheerleaders for the two-party apparatus within an oligarchy are the problem. It’s a failed system. It’s churning its way off a cliff, and hopefully, it won’t cause a nuclear armageddon before it collapses. It’s the machines in Matrix.

    Outside of that structure is where the people and planet-centered solution resides.

  5. It’s just easier to roil the waters with hate and fear than it is to have real policies. It is also more effective. Hate and fear lend themselves readily to sound bites. If you want to know what the Republicans are for, read Rick Scott’s agenda for the RSCC. Nobody talks about it on FAUX News, because it would gin up fear of Republicans among too many of their viewers.

  6. One of the nice things about the rise of the Internet and streaming media services is that the number of people subscribing to cable TV is going down. The bad news is that if you want to watch Faux News, all you have to do is stream it.

    Fox is the video version of Limbaugh. Limbaugh pioneered is career on manufactured hate. I remember in the late 90’s WIBC radio format was news, talk and weather, and it was sort of like a local NPR with weather and farm news thrown in. I had no idea what “bears and guilds” were, but I knew the price. It was easy background noise without being annoying. Then they picked up Rush Limbaugh, and just after 5 minutes his blathering, I turned it off. He was sort of like that toxic person in your office that always had some imagined grievance and just brought the moral down. There must be a lot people that thrive on that kind of drama.

    I am sure it has lead to what I like to call “newsertainment”, where every news story is nearly devoid of facts, but has to have a grieving mother or an angry aggrieved victim front and center.

  7. I dare anyone to go back to 2000 and count the stories/pictures in all the sections of the New York Times that are of/about Blacks, Latinos, LGBPT’s and compare that to today’s. While the whole country doesn’t read The Times, it is a symptom that suggests that the remaining significant majority doesn’t matter any more – without saying it out loud.

  8. It might be useful to distinguish between social and entertainment media even though they overlap significantly.

    What the Murdoch’s got much, much wealthier from is recognizing and accepting that our tolerance for factual news is quite limited, perhaps less than an hour per day. Some have no tolerance for it. But, our need for entertainment seems insatiable. People stare at little screens incessantly.

    We can be branded in terms of what we find entertaining though, sports, comedy, DYI stuff, drama, etc. They hit a sweet spot in terms of what a large brand finds entertaining – those who like blaming others for all of their negative emotions. Many have Archie Bunker in them.

    That demographic became the current Republican Party. Everybody won like the Murdochs, the Kochs, the Trumps, Putin, GOP politicians, less densely populated states, the church, the Waltons, the Bushes, the Reagans.

    Who lost? Those committed to trying to maintain a country adapted to present and upcoming reality. Problem solvers. Minorities. Intellectuals. Globalists. Democrats. Those who accept change as inevitable and brought about only by humans collectively, not individually. Those working to maintain the liberal democracy our founders designed first for the world here.

    In other words those formerly satisfied with the country’s role in the world.

  9. Hasn’t the social media been called out by politicians for its left leaning algorithms. The oligarchs who got Biden in Todd are wuickly running from him.
    Unions work if t they work with are profitable.. Oh because of fuel prices many companies have become much less profitable. So while Joe Biden is trying to expand unions it’s also a problem that he’s destroying corporations profitability

  10. I should have expanded The “who lost” category to include all of the fans of Fox. How do they lose too? They thought that by complaining to politicians their problems would get alleviated. In reality though they didn’t. All they got was the feeling of revenge by the acts of politicians imposing on the groups they were blaming.

    Now everyone is suffering but the country is floating away from the realities of human existence.,

  11. Agree with Jon Sorg and Pat–Fox news only took the torch that Limbaugh started.

    “Thanks to Fox News, conservative trust in government is so low that Republican partisans can easily believe Democrats have cheated on a mass scale, and white evangelicals in particular are willing to fight with the spirit of someone literally facing Armageddon.” However, I think there is a fair number of us Democrats have lost a great deal of confidence in the government, especially the Senate under Moscow Mitch. I witnessed a party that cowered under his prowess–I saw my party not really understand and miscalculate the Republican agenda over and over again. I said now almost 15 yrs ago that I have a sinking feeling the Republican party no longer believes in democracy whereas the Democrats are still trying to play by the rules against a faction who has tossed all those rules out the window. We need to learn how to fight and fight dirty and stop hugging the trees.

    True story–in March in the span of a week I got a text, the first one I thought was SPAM, but it was legit from the TN state Democratic Party asking if I would be interested in running for office any office in Wilson County. They reached out via text–not a letter, not a phone call, shoot I sent emails to Wilson County Democratic Party several times w/o response.

    I have thought about running–thought about running when I lived in Plainfield, IN and I have not ruled it out but the party in states like Indiana and Tennessee are so weak and have ignored rural Democrats for so long banking everything on the large cities and the presidency and ignoring everything else. They haven’t taken the risk to invest but just betting on what is perceived as a ‘sure thing’–and this includes those of color. Betting on African American woman to dig them out of the mess—at some point the Democratic party needs to start investing and not taking some of us for granted.

  12. Right now Elaine, it doesn’t matter what party you’re in if you’re filling up at the pump, buying groceries, getting a mortgage, you’re not trusting those in government. Even Larry summers of the Obama administration has been warning us of Bidens mistakes.
    In NY an individual who should have been red flagged. Committed a horrible crime, a person with mental illness bought a gun and killed 10 people.
    Mothers who cant buy formula dont trust the government.

  13. John S. – so sad, so true. And, per history, when this happens, a Hitler comes along: “I will take care of you”. In our case, perhaps, a second time (or, in his mind) a third….

  14. John S–America is a burning dumpster fire and gov’t seems to watch it burn waiting for the other to sprinkle some water

  15. Roger Ailes, and Fox began with a lie: “Fair and Balanced.”
    They manipulated various retail outlets by offering them free TV’s, if they would have the TV’s showing Fox. virtually nothing
    that the Murdochs Have done, of which I am aware, has been above board.
    And, while there were Limbaugh’s, and Joneses, and that rancid ilk, it is my impression that it is indeed, Fox, in the mainstream
    that has created the fear, which has fed the anger. For the most part, IMHO, one does not get angry unless something feels
    threatening, stirs fear. I have never heard of anyone being angry with the supposed UFO sightings …there is no serious threat therein.
    If they started landing people might start to get very upset, however.

  16. Too much news! Repeatedly all day long on the so called news channels! Most of it propaganda ! I stopped listening years ago! Just shills for the corporations who advertise constantly.Watch The NHL! The corps have turned a one hour game in to a three hour boring hockey interspersed with blabber from the sponsors.Same for all tv sports!

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