Donald Trump is no longer the joke candidate among a group of seventeen Republican candidates. He is no longer the guy who made it to the primaries but will lose to the top tier candidates. He is no longer the accidental GOP nominee.
Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of American. It is November 30th. In less than sixty days, he will be President Trump. Therefore, his words matter. Whether he says them on television or the words, spring forth from his phone in the form of Twitter.
Yesterday, Trump (who apparently was watching a report on Fox News about flag burning) tweeted the following:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
There were five reactions to this tweet:
- Measured criticism
- “Just ignore him!”
- “Ha! He’s trolling you!”
There’s no reason to freak out over every stupid thing Trump tweets. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. The people in agreement are the hardcore Trump supporters — the same ones Trump said won’t leave him if he shot somebody on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Many were offering up valid and measured criticism as Trump’s words were in direct conflict with the both the letter of the law and the spirit of free speech. The Supreme Court has ruled burning a flag is considered protected free speech. That idiots want to do it is their right no matter how distasteful we find it.
I take issue with the people who argue Trump is just out there baiting or trolling people to get them to react. Ben touched on that yesterday, but it goes deeper than just Twitter. Arguments are being made he’s just playing the media like they’re marionettes. He says something and the media jump all over it, not understanding his supporters don’t care and he just sits back and laughs.
That theory doesn’t hold water because Trump is not a clever person. He’s cunning in that he knows the weaknesses of his opponents and other people around him, but somebody who’s clever sits and thinks about what they’re going to say (or tweet) to get the response they’re seeking. Trump, on the other hand, is impetuous. When he tweets, what people see on the other end, is whatever is on his mind at the time. His stubby fingers move faster than his ability to stop and think about what he’s going to say. Trump just does it. His words have consequences as a result. It matters little that he says it on Twitter. That’s his platform, and it’s going to get around to all other media platforms in time.
Along the same lines is the theory Trump is doing it as a distraction. I hold Noah Rothman from ‘Commentary,’ in high regard, so when I saw his piece on Trump’s tweet, I immediately read it. Rothman says this, which is key:
Trump has allowed his daughter to sit in on a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister in her official capacity as executive vice president of the Trump Organization. He has taken meetings with developers in India with close ties to the country’s leading business and governmental authorities. Trump properties in Brazil, Ireland, and Scotland have ongoing disputes with local authorities over zoning and corruption issues that would invariably compromise President Trump’s ability to work with those governments. Trump has seemed to endorse the authoritarian crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which some speculated could be related to a conflict of interest, to which Trump himself admitted, related to an Istanbul property.
These are scandals in the making, and scandals have a way of snowballing. Scandals related to personal corruption can make an administration toxic. They steal away friends, stiffen the resolve of adversaries, and make compromise impossible, even for members of the same party. The longer Donald Trump can keep the public’s focus off of that which matters and on frivolous, fabricated controversies, the longer he can postpone an inevitable clash with Congress. In this, Trump’s greatest assets are a public that demands nothing too complicated from the arbiters of political discourse and a media culture that is all too eager to oblige.
Rothman’s theory is more plausible but still suggests Trump has this all figured out. Is he distracting the media from these scandals or does it have more to do with the public simply not caring at this point? There is a scene in ‘All The President’s Men,’ where the editors are talking about page one ledes. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had just established a large check from Nixon’s re-election efforts, raised by Kenneth Dahlberg was given to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP) chairman Maurice Stans. Somehow, that check wound in up in the bank account of Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars. The national editor suggests one lead and the metro editor says, “You’re ignoring the importance of the Dahlberg repercussions!” and the reply is, “Nobody cares about the Dahlberg repercussions.” Later on in the film which is still before Nixon is re-elected, Ben Bradlee says to Woodward and Bernstein, “You see the polls? Half the country hasn’t even heard of Watergate. Nobody gives a sh*t.”
People started giving a sh*t not long after Nixon started his second term and less than two years later, Nixon resigned. I would suggest to Noah that it’s not a diversion. People just don’t care but at some point, they will, and when that happens, nothing Trump says on Twitter will help him.
For those who are saying we should ignore what Trump says, it’s poor advice. Words matter, whether they are said on Twitter or elsewhere. Do I have a fear of Donald Trump looking to get legislation passed that would strip a person of their citizenship for burning a United States flag? No, but it is a thought that did make it into Donald Trump’s head and expressed to the public through some means of communication. Therefore, it is cause for concern, however slight the concern might be. Again, there is no reason to freak out about it but to simply let it go, comes across more as indifference than an effort to not give him attention.
Barring anything drastic, Donald Trump is going to be the President for at least four years. With the platform, he has, what he says matters. Journalists of all stripes must keep that in mind and remember they have a duty to report and inform the public.