“Is this the worst it’s ever been?” my son asked as he lifted weights in the garage few nights after Ol’ 45 tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“The world is always burning,” I said. “Whether we use water or gasoline? That’s our call.”
“Well, that’s optimistic,” he grunted as he finished a set of bench presses.
I think “the world is always burning” is a realistic and optimistic assessment, but that’s a longer conversation. In the garage—with a son under 30 distressed by the use of teargas on peaceful downtown protesters, an ongoing pandemic, and a POTUS intent on pouring gasoline on every fire he sees—my role was to listen, not lecture. (George W. Bush said the same thing in a well-crafted statement about George Floyd’s homicide: “[T]his is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen.”)
My son completed his workout, strengthening his body for certainty of future challenges, and I listened. He finished with a question: “Why does the president need a Twitter account?”
My son performs and writes comedy. I figured, having gotten weighty questions off his mind, he was working on new material. I played the straight man.
“I don’t know,” I deadpanned. “Why does the president need a Twitter account?”
“I’m not joking.” He glared. “If I said what he does on social media, I’d get fired or never get hired.”
Many people under 30 have learned the hard way that their social media posts have real-life consequences. They have lost jobs or been charged with crimes for inciting violence. A Marquette University student recently had her scholarship revoked because of a racist post about George Floyd’s death. Why should the president get a pass?
My son headed back downtown under the watchful eye of a law-enforcement helicopter. He looked worried. But after more than 100,000 COVID-related deaths, 40 million unemployed, and a summer heating up with the prospects of more racial violence during an election year, worried looks are a dime a dozen.
“Why does the president need a Twitter?” I mused.
In the musical “Camelot,” King Arthur (channeling the people of Camelot) sings, “I wonder what the King is thinking tonight.” Americans no longer have to wonder such things. In a “60 Minutes” segment taped November 11, 2016, then-President-elect Trump said regarding his planned Twitter use as POTUS, “I’m going to do it very restrained if I do it at all.” Four deplorable years later, the social media platform broadcasts the raw sewage of the king’s dark soul on an hourly basis, and mainstream and factionalized media dutifully amplify the middle-school muck. America has accepted the president has the inalienable right to rage-tweet whenever he chooses.
Does he, though? Can’t “we the people” curtail or stop this abuse of presidential power?
Our acceptance of a president’s use of Twitter is Obama’s fault. President Obama used social media judiciously and maintained a now non-existent boundary between the personal and professional, the formal and informal. He did not pour gasoline on fires.
How quickly would the GOP have written laws restricting the president’s use of social media if President Obama routinely had used the social-media bully pulpit to bypass Constitutional process, viciously attack personal enemies, promote his own businesses, relentlessly campaign for his next election and incite violence?
Political discourse is only a few steps removed from bloodshed; however, they are vital. They mark the short distance between the primitive and progressive, between civilization and the “American carnage” Ol’ impeached 45 spoke of in his inaugural address: an “American carnage” that history may use to describe his presidency.
Franklin D. Roosevelt used the emerging technology of radio to deliver about 30 “Fireside Chats” directly to the nation. Cabinet members were often appalled when he read initial drafts full of vitriol, personal insults and profanity. Many revisions later, he crafted compassionate communications to the nation that undoubtedly helped Americans endure the heat and droughts of the Great Depression and the fires of World War II. The world was burning then. Then again, the world is always burning. But we do not have to tolerate leaders that pour gasoline on it.