‘Everything That’s Going On’ Explains Everything That’s Going On

For the last two years, I’ve listened pretty regularly to The Ramsey Show, a call-in money advice show that is the second most popular talk radio show in America, with an estimated 14 million weekly listeners on radio alone; millions more listen to it as a podcast. The show is hosted by Dave Ramsey and a host of “personalities” who help people through some of the toughest financial decisions they will ever face.

The show is political, but it’s not about politics. Ramsey is conservative (perhaps most famous of late for throwing a maskless Christmas party while the pandemic raged), but the vast majority of the calls to his show are from people who are trying to pay off debt or want to know how much money they should invest in their 401(k), whether they should take a second job, or how to get their parents to set up a will before they die. This is just to say that while Ramsey occasionally rails against Congress or Joe Biden or “socialism,” it is not all he talks about, and most of his callers are just normal people calling in for normal advice about normal things that happen in people’s lives. For that reason I think he and his callers are very interesting to study as examples of a phenomenon I’ve started calling Everything That’s Going On.

Being upset about “Everything That’s Going On” or other exceedingly vague grievances is a variant of its newer cousin “Let’s Go Brandon,” and is the terminology currently being widely used by conservatives to signal that they are a conservative and that they are very mad about what’s happening in this country. Saying you’re worried about “everything that’s going on,” is like offering up a line on a Mad Libs sheet, a cipher standing in for whatever you want to say but don’t want to say. Everything That’s Going On might mean reckless government spending, vaccine mandates, government takeover, a rigged election, “critical race theory,” “socialism,” trans people being allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, having to wear a mask, or generally being asked to acknowledge that slavery happened, was bad, and has continued to shape the power dynamics of this country. Everything That’s Going On is a way to center yourself and your family as being directly aggrieved by what are either minor inconveniences, policies designed to make others’ lives more tolerable, or completely imaginary things altogether.

By saying you are worried about Everything That’s Going On, you are allowing the receiver of that information to fill in the blanks with whatever they want. On The Ramsey Show, on social media, and wherever else it’s used, people are rarely asked to elaborate about what, specifically, they are talking about. One person might say they are mad about “everything that’s going on” (having to get a vaccine to keep their job) and the person they’re saying it to might interpret that as “everything that’s going on” (white people are being replaced by immigrants in a white genocide). 

Use of the phrase is a two-way relationship involving a tacit agreement: The person using it avoids specificity, and their interlocutor politely doesn’t interrogate what they actually mean. Thus people with relatively minor grievances about, say, marginal tax rates, are able to align with people who stormed the Capitol because they thought Biden stole the election. 

Everything That’s Going On is also an excuse to act irrationally, because while the actual complaints are kept vague, what is not is the premise that your very way of life is being attacked by autocratic liberals. Concrete examples of this can be found on The Ramsey Show, where people who are seemingly happy and generally well-off are ready to blow up their lives to own the libs over perceived grievances. 

“For reasons I won’t … you already know, uh, we love our lives in California, our family’s there, but I don’t think we can stay in California anymore,” two teachers, one of whom teaches economics and the other robotics, told Ramsey last month while asking about whether they could afford to leave the state for Tennessee, where they would take a $100,000 combined pay cut. They did not elaborate on why they wanted to leave California, alluding only to “a few things that happened, our governor’s crazy and stuff.” It is unclear whether, this case, he means Gov. Gavin Newsom is crazy because he went to French Laundry during a pandemic, or whether he means Gov. Gavin Newsom is crazy because he’s a Nazi “vaccine supremacist” bringing Russia-style communism to California.

The most popular version of this—and the current going theory about why Democrats got their asses handed to them in the Virginia governor’s race—is the idea that something is going on in our schools and is motivating Republicans to vote on the new issue of education. The “something” in this case is “critical race theory,” “socialism,” mask mandates, and other poorly defined terms that generally relate to quite literally any attempt to teach children accurate things about America’s history of slavery and racism.

This shows up on the Ramsey show, all the time. Travis, a guy in Kentucky, told Ramsey that he wanted to pull his kids out of public school for … reasons, but that “I don’t want to be too political sounding. We just have some strong beliefs.” Ramsey interrupted: “You think the culture has lost its daggum mind … you’re still going to have to parent them in this culture.” Here is what’s actually happening in Louisville’s public schools: Protests over critical race theory, a subject and concept that isn’t actually taught in Louisville.

Also last month, a woman called in saying “my husband and I are really frustrated living in Oregon and we’re wanting to move somewhere to a state that is more in line with our values and what we want for the future of our children … it’s not something we planned on doing at all—we were both born and raised in Oregon but it’s just too much.” She went on to say that there are “unrelenting mandates” in Oregon “it’s just one thing after another. Our kids are being bombarded by liberal, anti-Christian views when they’re in school … the constant socialist ideas that are being passed down in Oregon, all of it.” 

Here’s what’s actually happening in Oregon: High school students must take a half credit of civics, starting with the class of 2026, and social studies classes will now teach that the Holocaust and other genocides were real and bad, and will now also “adequately address the contributions of the full diversity of the people of Oregon.”

Ramsey then monologued about Everything That’s Going On: “I think it is good for elected officials to hear why their citizens are leaving. It’s happening in California and New York en masse, it’s happening in Oregon and Washington state, where the city has lost control. People who are the producers in our culture. The artists who make the art, the businesspeople who run the businesses, the administrators who administrate. The good moms and dads who show up at PTA meetings,” he said, without elaborating on who these “good” citizens are and, conversely, who the “bad” ones might be. “They’re fed up—we’re seeing one of the biggest migrations in the history of the United States right now since the time this country was settled.”

This, too, is not actually happening. An analysis by Bloomberg found that more people are moving to the suburbs, but the prophesied mass exodus from California and New York has not really happened: 92 percent of people who moved during the pandemic stayed in the same state; 6 percent moved to another major metropolitan area, and .28 percent of people moved to another state but not a major metropolitan area. California lost a little over 100,000 people in 2020, a drop-in-the-bucket for a state of 39 million people, and the first time its population has not grown in more than 100 years.

This is not meant to pick specifically on Ramsey’s listeners or Ramsey, who the vast majority of the time gives empathetic advice to people who are struggling. But because his show features ordinary people and is nominally not about politics, it’s a useful lens through which to see how people are interpreting and internalizing media narratives.

Once you start listening for Everything That’s Going On, you will hear it and variations of it everywhere. There’s the guy in Virginia who said “critical race theory” is the most important issue in the governor’s race there but, when asked, had no idea what it is. There are the people who say “Let’s Go Brandon” instead of “Fuck Joe Biden” to signal that they saw a viral YouTube video and hate libs. There’s the conservative TikTok star coffee company CEO named Jake Dials who speaks in riddles using a Bane voice and is Just Asking Questions about how “something isn’t right” and people should open their eyes to a new, conspiracy-laden reality. 

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments that, actually, not much is going on came from Ramsey himself, in a rant titled “The World Is Going Crazy and Here’s What You Need to Do About It!,” which is about how the world is, for most people, not really that crazy at all. 

“The right hand media is telling you if you go to California it’s all shut down and the governor is a whatever … I went to Orange County and nothing is going on. Everybody is just walking around normal. I went to restaurants and a couple of the servers had masks on but it was about like it was here in Nashville,” Ramsey, who spent much of the winter asserting incorrectly that California was in an autocratic lockdown where you couldn’t even ride your bike legally, said. “I expected based on the news media to think I was going to Russia, the right hand news media. And the left hand media would have you think you’re all going to die tomorrow … I don’t see that out there either.”

Here is what is happening: The same things that have been unrelentingly happening for decades with little action from a political system designed to entrench current power structures. Climate change and environmental destruction, record levels of income inequality and a global pandemic that has exacerbated it, corporate agglomeration and political capture, a broken healthcare system, the militarization of the police, systemic racism. None of this was new under Trump, and not much of it has changed under Biden.  

And yet, to many people, Everything That’s Going On is that their kid will be taught they should be nice to Black people, asked to read Toni Morrison, or asked to take a vaccine that has widely been shown to be safe to confer protection against a deadly pandemic for themselves and others. They are right that things are happening; they just seem somehow to have missed what they are.

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