Article Thumbnail

The ‘Ratio’ Is the Next Great American Sport

If there's one thing that will unite this country, it's telling egomaniacal billionaire presidential wannabes like Howard Schultz to get bent. This is what direct democracy looks like in 2019

Remember this date: January 27th, 2019. That’s when Howard Schultz started tweeting, setting off an unprecedented chain of events.

As of this writing, Schultz has tweeted 12 times (with one deletion), always on the same subject: his narcissistic and selfish desire to run for president as a third-party centrist and prevent any further taxation of his extreme wealth. Every tweet has been “ratioed.” Schultz is batting 1.000.

What Is the Ratio?

If you’re not familiar with the Ratio, first identified by Twitter users in 2017 and quickly established as a reliable metric of online backlash by MEL contributor Luke O’Neil, it’s pretty simple:

  • When a post gets more replies than likes and retweets, it is, by definition, a Bad Post.
  • Not all Bad Posts are ratioed, but all ratioed posts are awful.
  • To be ratioed is to be dogpiled by users roasting your politics, spoonerizing your name, linking to articles about what a piece of shit you are, setting you up to get BOFA’d, announcing “I’m just here for the ratio” and comparing your face to some of the less appetizing cheeses.

Well, it turns out that Howard Schultz — a corporate slug who heroically leveraged multimillion-dollar loans into a franchise of mediocre coffee only to use his outsized platform to protect the donor class from having to support American healthcare — is a fucking virtuoso of Ratio-bait.

The Ratio Is Direct Democracy in Action

In the nearly two years since it became an accepted law of Twitter, the Ratio has come for many a goon. From Washington, D.C. to Hollywood, California, verified celebrities and anonymous unknowns have felt its wrath. If you’re an op-ed columnist charmed by Schultz’s brand of smarmy equivocation, you probably see this as the tyranny of a “mob,” and the would-be candidate’s proxies have readily taken up this victim narrative, not that it’ll do him much good.

Personally, I see it as an autoimmune response: white blood cells swarming a parasite. But you might also think of it as direct democracy in action — a way of checking the target’s unexamined assumptions and biases.

Yet another way to frame it is as a spectator sport, complete with avid fans, stats and shrewd analysis. As @maplecocaine has written: “Each day on Twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” Schultz has been the main character for a week, and people are taking notice, watching him as they would an incredible athlete.

The Ratio Is Something to Root For

Twitter lifers, always quick to complain that the platform has rotted their minds and ruined their grasp on reality, take great joy in any Ratio, and Schultz’s streak — which brings to mind the 16 years of consecutive baseball games played by the Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Nadal’s 81-match winning streak on clay tennis courts, and even the 2015–16 Golden State Warriors’ historic 24–0 start — is already a hall-of-fame achievement.

The continued savaging of this empty, irrelevant suit is therefore that rarest of pleasures: something to root for on the internet. This early in the 2020 election cycle, there’s little reason for anyone to get too invested in or excited by a particular candidate, and the average voter is 18 months away from paying attention to the race. Nevertheless, and despite the infighting that characterizes the primary cycle (or the long run up to it), there is a strong consensus here: Schultz can get bent.

Schultz’s historic Ratio is a watershed moment for reasons apart from bipartisan agreement. Crucially, this will be the first presidential election in which we’re aware of the Ratio as an instant feedback mechanism — and some have joked that it could derail Schultz’s campaign.

When a dipshit billionaire claims that the U.S. can’t afford universal healthcare (we can), or that Ronald Reagan was good because he never took his his jacket off in the Oval Office (he did), thousands will be there to debunk and ridicule him. This is no obstacle if you’re Trump, who possesses his own infernal momentum, a bottomless well of demented lies and enough loyalists to muddy the waters under every comment, but Schultz is in the embarrassing position of saying he represents a voiceless majority when seemingly the entire swath of Twitter that cares about politics is united against him. And while his mentions turn into a Superfund site, progressive leaders including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — whom Schultz bafflingly declared an enemy, earning himself a 360-degree dunk from the distinguished congresswoman — are demonstrating, via likes and retweets, the popular appeal of the very policies he dismisses as fringe nonsense.

But the Ratio Won’t Save Us From Egocentric Billionaires

The tragedy, of course, is that Schultz doesn’t understand what’s really happening to him. He’s incapable of noticing how commoners have rebuked his dead-end, donor-class execu-speak, or that what meager appeal he has is limited to his socioeconomic circle (plus the consultants and advisers currently soaking him for god knows what kind of money). In order to have real meaning, the Ratio must be experienced as the public shaming it is. Schultz simply isn’t there yet, and it’s not clear that he’ll ever figure out why 25,000 replies on a tweet is a solid indication of its powerful dumbassery. “Well, I must be doing something right to create so much interest and backlash from the Democratic Party,” he’s said of the unanimous booing that greets his doltish remarks. He’s hardly the first to declare moral victory in the midst of a Twitter pummeling, but that delusion won’t deliver an actual base, let alone votes. If fact, it will just drive him deeper into a bland and ambiguous mush of managerial platitudes.

Which means that for all the fun we have heckling guys like Schultz online, and as exciting as it is to see him to plunge the uncharted depths of this dynamic, there is a hard limit to the effect of the Ratio. It will not convince him to step aside, and it won’t save us from his banality. The sad truth is the most cutthroat sport is still only a game.