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Monday, January 9, 2017
Now That He’s Elected President, Trump Needs To Delete His Twitter
Now That He’s Elected President, Trump Needs To Delete His Twitter Account
The Federalist - Monday January 9, 2017
by Kyle Sammin
Donald Trump used social media more effectively than any other 2016 presidential candidate, fueling his campaign’s ascent and ultimate victory. In doing so, he has shown a shrewd understanding of how to bring his message to the people directly, without relying on interlocutors in the news media.
Effective as Twitter has been for him, though, the expectations of a president are different from those of a candidate. For the good of the country, and for his own good, Trump should delete his account.
It is always hard to know how to apply new technologies to existing norms, but American presidents have usually done a good job of adapting. Abraham Lincoln was the first to make serious use of the telegraph. Rutherford Hayes, contrary to the slanders of his twenty-first-century successor, was the first to use the telephone. Warren Harding was the first to speak on the radio. Franklin Roosevelt took that medium to new heights with his famous fireside chats. FDR also appeared on television to a small audience, but Harry Truman was the first to make real use of visual broadcasts. All of these media must have seemed strange at first, possibly even harmful to the dignity of the office, but the presidency gradually accommodated them.
In similar fashion, President Barack Obama has employed Twitter and Facebook, making them another method of communicating with the American people. It has been clear from the beginning, however, that Obama’s Twitter use was for official business, not personal matters.
The Presidency Is Not About the Man
The official presidential account, @POTUS, is rarely used; it has just 323 tweets since its creation in 2013. The president’s other account, @BarackObama, is far more active, but is still clearly a tool of his political career, not a personal account; the account’s official description reads “This account is run by Organizing for Action staff.” Perhaps when he leaves office Obama will use his personal handle to settle petty beefs and complain about service at restaurants. Maybe he will use it to tweet at airlines about flight delays or retweet dank memes. But probably not. Everything in his public communications so far has evinced a sharp divide between public and private life.
Trump chose a different approach to Twitter. To be fair, he opened the account in 2009 when he was a private citizen. But his transition to political candidate and then to president-elect have had no impact on his free-association Twitter style, even as he approaches his Inauguration Day. A man who is about to become the most powerful person in the world still communicates with the world without the filter or deliberation his position demands.
No one expects that President Trump will be a modern-day Silent Cal, but he should seriously consider President Calvin Coolidge’s advice on communication. In discussing his own laconic nature, Coolidge wrote:
Perhaps one of the reasons I have been a target for so little abuse is because I have tried to refrain from abusing other people. The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately. It would be exceedingly easy to set the country all by the ears and foment hatred and jealousies, which, by destroying faith and confidence, would help nobody and harm everybody. The end would be the destruction of all progress.
Coolidge’s wisdom reads like a rebuke to all twenty-first-century politicians, but most especially to Trump. When Trump is not retweeting avowed fascists, he is using his account to attack some of his fellow Americans in a more direct and vitriolic fashion than any normal politician.
That, in itself, was not a problem for Trump as a candidate. That he did not behave like a traditional politician was a large part of his appeal. Also, in comparison to the convoluted, multi-layered, inauthentic process behind each @HillaryClinton tweet—even those supposedly authored by Clinton herself—the bizarrely authentic nature of Trump’s tweets are, in some sense, a breath of fresh air.
Trump’s Twitter Behavior Is Unbecoming to a President
What is refreshing in a candidate may be destabilizing in a president. Consider Trump’s tweets since the election. His most notable use of the account has been to enter a public argument about how Vice President-elect Mike Pence was treated while attending a Broadway show.
Whatever your opinion of the feud, it is clearly beneath the dignity of the leader of the free world. Even Pence, the target of the audience’s abuse, seemed to recognize this, saying he doesn’t want an apology and describing the crowd’s jeers as “what freedom sounds like.” It’s hard to take issue with that statement, which is conciliatory and tolerant where Trump’s were hostile and divisive. Pence’s tone was presidential; Trump’s was amateurish.
Trump has also used Twitter to continue his pre-election attacks on television and print media.
Rash Talk From a President Is Bad for the Country
In this, Trump will find few detractors among those who voted for him. If there is one consistent theme in his political life, it has been a hostile relationship with the press. The tactic has been popular, which is not surprising when you consider the record low trust Americans have in journalists.
But, again, what is appropriate for candidate is not necessary legitimate in a president. President Obama’s relations with the press have been mostly friendly, but even his administration threatened press freedoms with unprecedented surveillance of journalists who displeased him. Trump’s attitude toward the press may be all bluster, but it may also presage a renewed assault on the First Amendment.
Even if Trump’s over-the-top press criticism does not bother you, one recent tweet suggests that his interactions with our allies will be similarly cavalier.
This one, compared to Trump’s usual fare, seems almost sedate, merely an expression of affection for a Trump-like figure in British politics. It is actually a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. As CBS News reported, “[l]awmakers from Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party and the Labour opposition made it clear they didn’t appreciate an incoming American leader weighing in so directly on matters of British domestic politics.” Even Farage himself seemed taken aback by Trump’s thinking out loud, saying “I don’t think I’m the ambassadorial type.”
The incident is unlikely to cause a breach between the United States and the United Kingdom, one of our oldest and most trusted allies. But it is easy to imagine a similar tweet about a country with which we have a more touchy relationship, like China or Pakistan, causing real-world problems. In state-run media, China has begun to express its displeasure at Trump’s Twitter habits.
Other sensitive situations spring to mind: treaty negotiations, intelligence briefings, budget fights. None should be discussed in public without forethought. As inauthentic as Clinton’s multi-step tweeting process was, it at least had the merit of not producing hasty or imprudent communication with the world.
Worst of all, perhaps, are Trump’s late-December tweets in which he claimed, without providing any evidence, that millions of people voted illegally and cost him a popular vote plurality to match his electoral vote majority.
Before the election, many were concerned that Trump would refuse to respect the result. After he won, the bitter-end election denial has been on the far Left, instead. But, as his tweets reveal, Trump refuses to take yes for an answer, and has added his own voice to the chorus of conspiracy theorists in claiming widespread election fraud.
Trump’s own advisors have struggled to explain their chief’s suspicions. They probably resent the distraction from the business of transition, not to mention the lack of respect for democratic norms. They must also realize that they would not have to bother with any of it if not for the president-elect’s itchy Twitter fingers.
Have other presidents entertained bizarre ideas? They almost certainly have. But because they did not announce their every thought to the world, no one outside their inner circle knew about it. President Obama might believe that ancient aliens built the pyramids, but if so at least he is not tweeting about it.
Trump surely understands that things have changed for him. They must also change for his Internet presence. We all know that Trump will never be a Coolidge, and is unlikely to heed the advice from our 30th president. But maybe he should consider the advice of a former friend and recent opponent, at least when it comes to Twitter.