Shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, a new merchandising effort appeared in response to his tweets.
“HAHA,” a typical tweet read, “reading this while sipping coffee from LIBERAL TEARS MUG!” Often there would be a response, thanking the Twitter user for providing a link and claiming that they, too, had ordered a mug. As a nice touch, the follow-up tweets often included an image from an order confirmation page, because when one orders something online one must necessarily also prove that the order has taken place.
The Outline investigated the effort in early January, determining that the responses were (unsurprisingly) mostly from automated Twitter accounts pushing people to an online store called TeeChip.com. Within a few weeks, most of the tweets vanished and the insistent marketing campaign dried up, perhaps a function of Twitter shutting down the accounts pushing it so heavily.
The phenomenon, though, is still around. The mugs were hoping to capitalize on the sense of schadenfreude enjoyed by supporters of Donald Trump, a sense that still lingers. There are lots of “liberal tears” products still out there, including firearm lubricant (it smells like bacon), T-shirts, fake jars of tears and, of course, drink receptacles. Mugs, glasses, beer steins, what have you. Any manner of vessel in which tears could be collected and, for some reason, imbibed.
Looking for such a mug? Search social media for “liberal tears” and you’ll see an example in short order.
Seeing this idea crash against the shore of social media for the past year, I was left with a nagging question: Just how long would it take to fill a mug with tears, liberal or otherwise? Were one to want to both have a mug claiming to be filled with liberal tears but also actually fill it with liberal tears, how long would that take? The impression I have of tears is that they are not generally a high-volume business. And, as it turns out, I am correct.
“It’s a very controversial number because, first, it’s difficult to measure,” Stanford University’s Peter Tang told me when we spoke by phone this week. “Secondly, there’s a lot of variation in the population because of dry eye, autoimmune disease, things like that that can really dry out the surface of the eye.” There is not a “normal person” whose tear production can be measured. “There’s a lot of variability,” he said, and the rate of production is “the Holy Grail of dry-eye disease.”
However, there is a figure that’s been published. Namely: 1.03 microliters per minute — with a variation of 0.39 microliters. How much fluid is that? It’s a volume equivalent to about 17 grains of sand. Every minute, in your eye.
Unless you’re at one of the drier or wetter extremes. The 0.39 variation means that an eye, liberal or otherwise, produces between 0.64 and 1.42 microliters per minute. That’s for what’s called “basal” tears, the tears that are generally present in your eye during the day.
So assuming that rate of production, how long would it take to fill our mug? Again assuming eight fluid ounces, it would take between 370,000 and 166,600 minutes of tear production to achieve that volume, from the driest to the wettest ends of the scale Tang presented. In other words, it would require capturing the tears of your liberal for between 116 and 257 days continuously. If you started with one liberal at Trump’s inauguration, you’d have between 1.2 and 2.7 mugs of liberal tears at your disposal.
However! This is basal tearing. There are other ways of producing tears, too, of course. There’s medical tear production, using drugs or electrical stimulation — the sort of production undertaken by those suffering from dry eyes. There’s reflexive tear production, the sort of tears that are created by your eye to flush out an irritant. And, of course, there’s emotional tear production — crying because you are mad because you are a liberal and Trump is the president.
This is a trickier question. Remember how hard it is to determine the rate of tear production under normal conditions, as Tang explained? There was a huge 37 percent swing in the possible production in that case. Figuring out the variation in production from someone who’s crying is a different thing entirely.
Different sources put the rate of reflex tearing at between 50 microliters and 300 microliters per minute. Let’s assume that our crying liberal is producing tears at a rate of 100 microliters a minute — 100 times what’s normal. In that case, you’d simply need to get the liberal to be crying at that clip for 39 straight hours to fill your mug. Much easier.
Except that people don’t generally cry for nearly two days straight. There’s research on this, too. Babies cry 30 times a day, for about 3.2 minutes a pop. Babies, though, generally lack well-developed political belief systems and are therefore rarely classifiable as liberals. A researcher in the Netherlands found that most crying spells last less than 15 minutes, with men reporting briefer jags. Americans tend to cry more than residents of other countries, with American women crying 3.5 times per month.
In other words, we might get 15 minutes of heavy crying tears a few times a month — and the rest of the time have to deal with regular-old basal tears. That’s still 107 days of tears, including four heavy periods of crying in each of three months.
We must also ask whether there is any difference between the rate at which a liberal cries and the tearing rate of a conservative. Women are more likely to be liberal than men, according to Gallup. And, as the American Academy of Ophthalmology tells us, “women cry about three to four times more frequently than men, and when they do cry it tends to be more intense.” Other sources suggest little difference in tear production by gender, but that older people tend to have more dry-eye issues. Older people, though, are more likely to be conservative and are therefore less important to the analysis at hand.
Were one to create a liberal-tear factory, there are various economies of scale that might be deployed. Lots of liberals, for example, though you’d want to vet their politics well so as not to deceive your customers. The use of pharmaceutical or electric stimulants, which might significantly increase production. There’s a difference in the contents of emotional and reflexive tears, though; tears we produce when crying include more hormones and other painkillers that are generated under stress. What we’re saying, in other words, is that the taste of the tears might be affected by artificial generation methods.
That raises an important question: Is it healthy to drink mugs of liberal tears?
Sure. You drink them all the time. Tears “drain into the ducts that travel through the nasal sinus and drain into the back of throat,” explained Tang, a physician.
In other words, if you’re a liberal, you’ve literally been drinking liberal tears every waking minute of every day since Trump won the election. And no doubt much to the chagrin of the conservative-mug-selling industry, you’ve been doing so at no cost whatsoever.