Good luck with that, buddy. He’s more likely to give up the nuclear codes than his social-media crack. In fact, I wonder if he prizes the presidency because, above all else, it forces the entire world to pay close attention to his tweets. That’s a “Black Mirror” episode in the making for you.
Besides, if he gave up Twitter, how else would a man with the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies at his beck and call get “the news”?
Twitter has allowed the president to continue accessing fringe websites and viewing racist videos simply by scanning his “mentions,” according to two former aides who have observed how he uses the site. Trump doesn’t use the direct-message function on the website, which would allow people he follows to privately share links with him — but he often looks at tweets that mention his handle, and picks up links and videos there.
The conversation on Twitter then often dictates his thinking. “Everybody’s talking about this,” he will tell his top aides in the West Wing, referring to a clip or an article he saw circulating among the small group of Twitter users he follows…
Trump is familiar with the criticisms — he knows that his retweets and his commentary are “not presidential,” he will tell aides, pre-empting the criticism he knows is coming. “The most success anyone has had, through numerous angles and schemes, has been to stop it momentarily, or to slow things down,” said one former aide of Trump’s tweets. “But it’s just not possible to control it.”
His Twitter rampage yesterday morning has become a full-blown international incident thanks to his decision to retweet anti-Muslim videos from a neo-fascist UK group, Britain First. Theresa May has condemned him more than once in the past 24 hours and the British ambassador had a word with the White House about it. That’s going over as well as you’d expect:
.@Theresa_May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2017
The surprise is how widespread the criticism of him is in the UK for yesterday’s retweets. Some critics were predictable like his old nemesis Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. Khan had suggested before that Trump’s upcoming visit to Great Britain should be canceled and has doubled down on that now: “It beggars belief that the President of our closest ally doesn’t see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that makes Britain so great.” Criticism from May and the Tories was to be expected also, not just because they’re the governing party and would be expected to defend British Muslims from Britain First propaganda but because the Conservatives are worried about far-right populists gaining traction in the UK. Trump’s retweet was a political coup for Britain First, an otherwise small group, in raising their public profile. Of course the Tories will scramble to declare them beyond the pale given the broader political currents in Europe.
This criticism, though, was a genuine surprise:
[Nigel Farage] said: “I do think these videos are very bad taste and he showed poor judgement.
“Of that I have no doubt at all.”
Speaking of the White House’s defence, he added: “I think that was a mistake.
“There are times when perhaps its better to put your hands up and say ‘I got this wrong’ and frankly try to move on”.
Trump’s pal, “Mr. Brexit,” the former head of Britain’s most prominent nationalist party, rapping Trump’s knuckles for anti-Muslim propaganda? Huh. Presumably Farage finds Britain First beyond the pale too and is concerned that promoting neo-fascist groups will erode the respectability of more mainstream nationalist groups like UKIP. He spent many years fending off the predictable criticism that UKIP was a racist and quasi-fascist outfit and convinced enough Britons that it wasn’t, that leaving the European Union was sound policy, to have won a national referendum on the question. Now here’s his buddy Donald promoting Britain First at a moment when the fate of Brexit remains unsettled. Not helpful. The more center-right Brits are convinced that nationalism ineluctably leads to neo-fascism, the more likely Brexit is to be undone.
Which is to say, Farage is a strategic thinker but Trump really isn’t. I can imagine Steve Bannon egging him on to retweet those videos because Bannon is also a strategic thinker, a man who’s trying to jump-start nationalist movements in Europe. Bannon believes in heightening the contradictions, confident that the public will side with populists when forced to choose between “globalist” neoliberalism and the alternative. A little anti-Muslim propaganda from the president serves that end. For Trump, though, I think this was no more complicated than him scrolling through his timeline, seeing the Britain First video retweeted by Ann Coulter, then checking out the BF Twitter account himself and watching some clips, none of which in isolation would have been out of place as the outrage du jour on “Fox & Friends.” I honestly wonder if he sees a distinction between the mainstream right and neo-fascist groups and why mainstream righties worry about the latter. In that sense he’s true to his Democratic roots. The difference is, unlike Democrats, he doesn’t seem to worry.