Politics & Policy

How to Tell If You Are Part of a Mob

Activists rally against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate’s Hart Office Building, October 4, 2018. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)
This shouldn’t be that hard to explain.

During the final, torturous week in which our nation collectively lost its marbles over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I happened to be out of the country. This was a fantastic decision on my part — one could not feel the surge of unhinged panic in France, where people just kind of sauntered around as usual, smoking cigarettes, and looking vaguely aloof — but I also apparently missed some very exciting news.

One of the most thrilling things I missed, or so I am told, involved an exhaustive national debate over the meaning of mysterious terms in Brett Kavanaugh’s high-school yearbook. “Devil’s Triangle.” “Boof.” It was wild! It was like decoding the prophecies of Nostradamus, or at least the Rosetta Stone!

Alas, “boof” is already gone, scattered from the national consciousness, a proverbial dandelion seed soaring away on the wind of a thousand pundits. Luckily for me, however, our nation’s vocabularic controversies continue, with the latest fevered question bubbling up everywhere from Twitter to the New York Times to NPR: What exactly is the meaning of the word “mob”?

Divorced from its ultimate meaning, the word “mob” — like “boof,” or “barf,” or “bamboozle,” or “aquifer” — is kind of inherently funny. But that truth is neither here nor there, and is probably best left to our inquisitive friends in the greater field of mob linguistics. After all, the actual debate over the word “mob,” happening as we speak, is not very funny at all.

A mob, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” In case you haven’t noticed, mobs are quite hot right now. The Kavanaugh confirmation brought out mobs in droves, whether they were tearing up pro-Republican signs, attempting to claw down the doors of the Supreme Court like a herd of underfed velociraptors, or shrieking in unison at senators who dare to step out in public.

Unlike Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, these mobs were repeatedly captured in crystal-clear video footage for all the world to see. Here’s weird thing, however: Because this latest crop of mobs emerged from the political left, an impressive number of people will tell you — often in a fairly huffy manner! — that they simply don’t exist.

The best short summary of the Great American Mob Debacle is encapsulated by a recent clip from CNN, in which host Brooke Baldwin reacted in horror and dismay when columnist Matt Lewis accurately described the screaming mob that recently chased Texas senator Ted Cruz out of a restaurant as . . . wait for it . . . a mob.

“Oh, you’re not going to use the ‘mob’ word here,” Baldwin declared. “A mob is what we saw in Charlottesville, Va., two Augusts ago. A mob is not what we saw chasing” — and here Baldwin suddenly changed course, perhaps because she realized that “chasing” sounds suspiciously mob-like. “I’m not saying what they did was right,” she added, before declaring that the “m-word” should be off-limits, given that it contributes to “the weaponization of what’s happening now on the right.”

Ah, the “m-word”: A media star is born. If you’ve had the pleasure of watching CNN or MSNBC over the past few days — I don’t recommend it, but people somehow do it anyway — you’ve likely been lectured by various talking heads about how calling a mob a mob is a terrible thing, unless that mob can somehow be related to either Republicans or President Donald Trump.

Since everyone seems terribly confused about this issue, I thought I might provide a helpful Cliff’s Notes–style guide to recognizing mobs in their natural habitat. Full disclosure: I have not seen more than three or four live mobs in my lifetime. This is probably because I went to college in the ’90s, when nobody really cared about anything beyond the sort of problems presented in the movie Reality Bites, starring Ethan Hawke, who happens to be in the midst of a major cinematic comeback. Call it the “Hawkeissance,” if you will!

Regardless, here is my guide to mobs, without further ado:

  • If you try to claw down the doors of the Supreme Court with a bunch of other people attempting to do the same thing, and you resemble a herd of underfed velociraptors, you are part of a mob. This shouldn’t have to be explained, but here we are.
  • If you join a group of people to surround another person with the goal of shouting and swearing at them until they leave a restaurant, you are part of a mob. Also, serious question: Do you really think this will make anyone want to come to your side?
  • If you join a group and engage in violent behavior or cheer on calls for violent behavior, you are part of a mob. Believe it or not, this rule applies to both sides of the political aisle!
  • If you engage in a secretive and widely coordinated plan to disrupt a public food court by suddenly breaking into some sweet dance moves timed to mysteriously piped-in music, you are part of a mob. Just kidding. You’re not just part of a mob . . . you’re part of a spectacular dancing flash mob! Congratulations! Keep it up, jazz hands!

I’m running out of room, but if you think mobs are bad, you also might want to avoid bullying strangers on Twitter, stop trying to get people you disagree with fired, quit harassing public figures while in the safety of a larger group — these three, it should be noted, are current specialties of the political Left — and cease doing anything in a crowd that you wouldn’t do on your own. Finally, just between you and me and the world, one also might not want to publish op-eds like this recent one in the Huffington Post: “We will not sit down and shut up. We will keep screaming. We will continue to confront our elected officials wherever we encounter them.”

Oh dear. This sounds like a terrible, disastrous, and exhausting plan — but it shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. After all, here’s one final fact from my helpful guide: Mobs take a very long time to learn from their mistakes.

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