Trump’s Twitter Problem—and Ours
‘For out of the abundance of the heart the hand tweeteth.’
Twitter is having another moment. Take Monday morning, when Donald Trump fired off multiple tweets before most of us had poured our Wheaties. One (incorrectly) attacked the mayor of London for being weak on terror. Another criticized Trump’s own justice department, referring to the executive order that his team argues would “pause” immigration from certain countries as a “ban.”
Trump staffers Kellyanne Conway and Sebastian Gorka were dispatched to TV to criticize the media for being obsessed (per Conway) over Trump’s use of social media (per Gorka). Their goal was to dismiss Trump's statements as somehow irrelevant because they were tweeted. In other words, the president’s Twitter timeline voice is an unreliable narrator that should be ignored.
This argument was quickly undermined, however, when Conway’s husband, George—a prominent attorney who, until recently, was being considered for a post in the Trump administration—took to Twitter to suggest the president’s tweets could undermine the administration’s case in the Supreme Court.
The fact that George Conway used Twitter to criticize the president’s use of Twitter (how meta!) tells you everything about the power of this communication tool. Facebook might drive more traffic, but Twitter holds its own when it comes to driving the debate—especially among opinion leaders.
Trump’s staff can try to smooth over his rough edges in the most irenic and palatable way. And then Trump can—in one tweet—undermine all of their efforts, as shown most dramatically by a bot that reformats his Tweets so that they look like official White House statements.
With Trump’s itchy Twitter fingers, ideas and observations that might have been vetted or reconsidered in a bygone era are now simply thrust into the national conversation with little thought to their implications. Unlike most political statements, Twitter is authentic, intimate, and revealing.
It’s a sort of truth serum, and not just for the Tweeter-in-Chief.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” This means that you will eventually say whatever is in your heart. The modern version should be, “For out of the abundance of the heart the hand tweeteth.”
In Twitter veritas.
An admission: As a longtime guilty user, I know firsthand how valuable the medium can be for a career—and how intoxicating and alluring it can be. Personally, I’ve had to adapt how I use the medium to avoid becoming a cautionary tale, myself. What is more, I have admittedly had a love-hate relationship with the platform. On one hand, I have argued that Trump could conceivably use this revolutionary technology to effectively push legislation and communicate his message. On the other hand, I was ahead of the curve in warning that “Twitter sucks you into small, petty battles” and that “It can distract you from the important to the urgent.”
And, on the third hand, please follow me @mattklewis.
Back to the story. While Trump was tweeting his heart out, there was a subplot to this Twitter tale: Breitbart fired editor Katie McHugh for controversial tweets about the London terrorist attack. (This raises an interesting question: Where do you work after Breitbart fires you for being too controversial?)
I haven’t spoken to McHugh in years, but I know her. A little. In person, she’s the most soft-spoken, meek, and quiet person you’d ever want meet. She hardly ever talks, and when she does, it’s with a very soft voice. If it weren’t for Twitter, we would have no idea about her fringy political positions. It’s not just the most recent tweet that crossed the line. The Reagan Battalion’s Twitter feed (see how important Twitter is!) has documented the worst examples.
This makes me wonder: Are we better off knowing people’s dark, deep-seated thoughts? I suspect we are.
Over at The Week, Damon Linker just wrote a piece titled: "Twitter Is Destroying America.” He makes valid points about the downside of this social media platform, but on the positive side of the ledger, perhaps Twitter is an antidote to political correctness? The fear is that P.C. is going to squelch debate and silence controversial views. With Twitter, that's no longer a problem. Twitter reveals things that might otherwise be concealed, and while that certainly comes with a cost, maybe we're better off knowing the truth.
Twitter tells us what people really believe. This is a disservice to tweeters, but it is arguably a service to the American public.
Last point. I don’t want you to get the idea that this dilemma—whether that’s Trump or Katie McHugh—is exclusive to people on the right. This is a bipartisan phenomenon. Just as the terrorist attack led McHugh to say inflammatory things about Muslims on Twitter, CNN host Reza Aslan took to Twitter to call President Trump a “piece of shit.”
He later apologized, but you know that he really meant it the first time. People keep outing themselves on Twitter.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the hand tweets.