Yesterday, everyone on Twitter seemed to be talking about Greta Thunberg and her speech at the United Nations. That led to some back and forth between people who adore Greta and those who find her a bit overwrought. There was even a hashtag trending among the Greta defenders: #HowDareYou. What’s interesting is that most of the people using the hashtag weren’t talking about climate change, they were talking about Greta. She really has become a kind of cult figure for some.
Because I know how this game works, I should say up front that I don’t free threatened by Greta Thunberg and I’m not looking to attack her, nor am I terrified of her power. Greta is an idealized version of left-wing politics: innocent, passionate, determined to change the world. Greta is what a lot of adults who aren’t changing the world would like to imagine themselves being (or having been in the past). I think that’s why people get so worked up defending her. She’s not just a teen, she’s their own inner political child. How dare you criticize her!
Indeed the whole point of making Greta the focus is that you can’t criticize her without being a mean adult. This makes her perfect for the left’s purposes. But while that may be strategic on the part of her parents or whoever is funding her world tour, the cult of Greta is completely sincere in its adoration. For a certain type of progressive, she is the platonic ideal of the concerned global citizen. To criticize her is to criticize all that is good and right in the world.
Enter Trump. The elephant stampeding through the midst of all that gauzy reverence.
Not surprisingly, the Greta fanbase is furious at this lack of respect for their teen heroine. Here’s CNN’s Chris Cillizza turning #HowDareYou into a column:
Was she passionate? Yes. Was she upset? Yes. Does she have every right to those feelings — particularly given the dire predictions about the warming climate and what it could mean for our planet? Absolutely yes.
Unfortunately, it’s not at all surprising that Trump saw fit to make fun of Thunberg’s passion and emotion. This is who he is — a schoolyard bully who doesn’t differentiate between a 16-year-old girl and Joe Biden…
Here’s the thing: Even pieces like this one condemning Trump for his comments on a 16-year-old girl — and I can’t emphasize that fact strongly enough — will be lumped into the broad category of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” by the President’s supporters. Trump is messing with the media so bad! They don’t know what to do! He must be doing something right!
He’s not. Take the politics out of it. Think of your own teenager or a friend who has a teenager. Would you want the President of the United States mocking him or her solely because what they believe is different than what he believes, and they have the audacity to speak out about it?
Again, “take the politics out of it” is utter nonsense. First of all, Greta isn’t some random teen from down the block. She has 2 million followers on Twitter. She’s speaking to the UN. Her every statement appears in hundreds of news stories around the world. She’s a mega-celebrity with a massive international following. Second, if you take the politics out of it then Trump shouldn’t be the president in this scenario, just an old guy who lives around the corner.
Third, this battle isn’t nearly so one-sided as Greta’s fans would like to portray it. If you want to see a one-sided attack on random teens, look back at the left’s attack on the Covington kids and Nick Sandmann in particular. Whatever this is, it’s not that. In fact, Greta is being celebrated right now for her clever “clap back” at President Trump:
Greta Thunberg's Twitter bio. 😂 pic.twitter.com/LeOEBFgGTj
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) September 24, 2019
In general, people seem eager to present Greta and Trump as the opposite ends of a spectrum. One old, one young. One cavalier, one concerned. One who benefits from the system and one who wants to upend it. But I think the Greta phenomenon and the Trump phenomenon actually have a lot in common. They both seem to be carefully cast TV show characters. Trump comes from the show about the brash guy who fires people who displease him and Greta comes from the show about an emotional teen overwhelmed by the world and disappointed in her parents’ generation.
Granted, these are different shows for very different audiences, but they’re ultimately both shows being stage-managed by a lot of people who don’t appear on camera. Trump vs. Thunberg on Twitter isn’t an outrageous outrage. It’s a marketing war from rival networks and probably the closest to the truth of the modern world as we’ll get today.