It makes me laugh how many media dorks register this point every time Trump tweets something bananas — and last night’s “button” tweet really was his most bananas yet, make no mistake. What do they think’s going to happen if Twitter and other social media services cut him off? He’s the president. He can have a platform anytime he wants. Either he’d have some personal instant communication widget set up on the White House website, making it an instant must-read for half the planet, or he’d arrange something with fan sites like Fox News or Breitbart to publish his thoughts at will. He could even ask the Failing New York Times for a daily 10-minute interview and they’d happily oblige. “B-b-b-ban him, Twitter!” is the goofiest, most myopic thing you can sputter under the circumstances. If you want to stop him tweeting, get him a hobby or some medication.
The best case for a Twitter ban was made by Conor Friedersdorf. If you’re going to do it, do it for every member of the international political elite. Twitter is singularly unsuited for thoughtful measured rhetoric. Allowing people with the legal power to kill to use it is asking for trouble.
By now these truths are self-evident:
— Twitter was designed to lower barriers to communication and encourage impulsive, off-the-cuff comments—and at that the platform has been wildly successful.
— Twitter routinely stokes needless conflict.
— Countless people who use Twitter routinely publish words that are ill-considered…
Mutually assured destruction may well be a necessary evil in our world; communicating it to hostile regimes in a careful, deliberate, responsible manner is part of being president of the United States as most Americans conceive of it; but Twitter is surely within its rights to declare that its platform is neither the time nor the place for such communications––which surely constitute a threat of violence––given the strengths, weaknesses, and limits baked into what it has designed.
The site is a rhetorical mosh pit. Keep the policymakers out lest they be tempted to mosh too. Just one flaw in that argument: There’s … really only one international policymaker who can’t seem to restrain himself. Why ban Theresa May or Angela Merkel just because the president seems intent on turning nuclear brinksmanship into an unusually dumb “Black Mirror” episode replete with virtual dick-waving? Twitter doesn’t have a “political leaders behaving badly” problem, it has a Trump problem. And Twitter’s problem is everyone’s problem.
This made me laugh too, though:
Just for perspective…how believable would this be as a tweet? What would be a normal person's reaction to it? pic.twitter.com/sshBSp9dzJ
— Sam Wang (@SamWangPhD) January 3, 2018
The interesting thing about the reaction to last night’s “button” tweet isn’t how many people freaked out a la Brian Stelter in the clip below but how many didn’t freak out. Less than a year in, the world is already inured to Trump’s shtick. Watch Democrat Jim Himes marvel in the second clip how surreal it is that the president of the United States can publish a grade-school taunt involving the threat of nuclear war aimed at an unstable regime and for the most part people just shrug and giggle. It was said during the campaign that his fans take him seriously but not literally while the media takes him literally but not seriously, but increasingly no one takes him too seriously or literally even when he’s messing with incredibly sensitive high-stakes international relations. Part of the reason, I think, is that foreign diplomats already long ago digested the fact that the president has “issues” and so nothing shocks them anymore. Here’s Susan Glasser writing about a dinner Trump held with Latin American leaders during the UN General Assembly in September in which he apparently asked them if they wanted him to consider “the military option” with … Venezuela. Nope:
By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. “Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,” the former official told me. Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”…
Over the course of the year, I have often heard top foreign officials express their alarm in hair-raising terms rarely used in international diplomacy—let alone about the president of the United States. Seasoned diplomats who have seen Trump up close throw around words like “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” In Berlin this spring, I listened to a group of sober policy wonks debate whether Trump was merely a “laughingstock” or something more dangerous. Virtually all of those from whom I’ve heard this kind of ranting are leaders from close allies and partners of the United States. That experience is no anomaly. “If only I had a nickel for every time a foreign leader has asked me what the hell is going on in Washington this year … ” says Richard Haass, a Republican who served in senior roles for both Presidents Bush and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
We’re in God’s hands now, or at least James Mattis’s, and yet life goes on more or less as normal. Ross Douthat is also amazed at how small the uproar is over Trump’s rhetoric:
There's a lot of online and media and activist hysteria, yes. But still: People in our government, other governments, on Wall Street and more all go about their everyday lives as though Mattis and maybe Pence are running the country and all this is just entertainment.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) January 3, 2018
Which may be as dangerous or even more dangerous than a more immediately hysterical reaction. The next few years will tell. I just expected a more immediately chaotic *reaction* to his chaos, and I was wrong.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) January 3, 2018
Public reaction to the “button” tweet would have been more severe if it had come at the start of Trump’s presidency. Everyone expected him to sound Trumpy as president, the question is whether he’d be Trumpy. Would he bomb some random country out of the blue? Overrule his generals in launching a hot war on North Korea or Iran? Demand 80 percent tariffs or whatever on Chinese goods? Nearly a year in, the answer is no — or maybe “not yet.” He rapped Assad across the knuckles for using chemical weapons and continued the fight against ISIS to great success, but he hasn’t done anything too Trumpy yet. Once the shooting starts somewhere unexpected I think voters will reassess but right now most are content to write it off as him being a blowhard who’s using Twitter as a release valve for his frequent moments of pique. Remember that story from the campaign about Don Jr supposedly calling one of Kasich’s advisors and offering him unparalleled power to set policy if he agreed to join the ticket as vice president? The Kasich advisor allegedly asked what Trump would be doing if Kasich was effectively running the country. “Making America great again,” Junior answered. That’s sort of what we have now. McConnell and Ryan craft legislation, Mattis and the Pentagon enjoy unprecedented autonomy over operations, and POTUS tweets. Americans can live with that arrangement, however unhappily — until there are consequences.