The President-elect has used Twitter since November to attack his enemies, disseminate lies, and sow confusion. On December 7, he went after labor leader Chuck Jones of United Steel Workers Local 1999. Jones had simply called Trump on his inflated claims that he had “saved” jobs in Indiana. Jones received death threats within thirty minutes of Trump’s tweet.
Trump also lurched into an unnecessary and dangerous conflict with China over Taiwan on social media. He attacked Saturday Night Live. He criticized Arnold Schwarzenegger for the low ratings of “Celebrity Apprentice,” a ridiculous reality show the President of the United States once helmed and for which he now serves as Executive Producer.
What is he doing?
There are several possibilities, none entirely mutually exclusive. First, that he is a feckless old man unable to clarify in his own mind the rigorous requirements of the office that he holds and his relationship to celebrity culture. Thus, his lack of intelligence and imagination prevent him from seeing the absurdity of complaining that Clinton used an insecure internal server while he engages in reckless behavior on social media.
Second, he loves twitter because of the little hearts and the retweets. It's the closest thing to his other great love, the sound of his own voice. One can imagine Charles Foster Kane would also have relished tweeting and certainly Trump’s Citizen Kane-sized desire for love and attention is breathtaking in its scope. Trump, incidentally, has seen Orson Welles’ masterpiece. He came away believing the film’s message to be that Kane should have married again.
These possibilities certainly fit the lack of intellectual curiosity and malignant narcissism that Trump has displayed throughout his inglorious, embarrassing life. But I worry about such interpretations. The favorite pastime of almost every commentator on politics for the last two years has been failing to take Trump seriously.
So perhaps there’s a third possibility. Trump and his henchmen have touted his use of both twitter and YouTube as ways to take his message directly to “the people” (Trumpism’s definition of “the people” is complicated and would require an entirely different essay to delineate). What does this claim mean?
After Benito Mussolini’s seizure of power in Italy in 1922, he moved quickly to establish control of traditional media outlets through intimidation. By the 1930s, he made use of radio to “speak directly to the people” and hide the fact that the censored, or cowed, press no longer provided information, partisan opinion, and investigative reporting to the Italian public. Radio stations broadcast Mussolini’s speeches and then provided fawning commentary. The poet Ezra Pound, losing his way in his confusion over modernity, used short wave radio in an effort to agitate for the fascisti.
The Nazis recognized the same and, in a troubling analogue to our current situation, Goebbels noted in 1933 that the radio would be to the twentieth century what the press had been to the nineteenth. Goebbels would have loved social media, its speed and malleability that allows users to leave facts behind.
Twitter has allowed Trump’s voice to bellow, like Big Brother’s assertions on the two-way in 1984, without interpretation or nuance. He is using it to subvert democracy.
What do we do?
Do not listen. Just #BlockTrump
If you follow him on twitter to document his inanities, why not stop? Why not block him? Why not hurt him in his most tender and vulnerable spot, his hubris, his ego, and his desperation for love, esteem, and attention?
Block him. Go and do it now. You are Winston in 1984 and you have the opportunity to turn off your two way. You control the leader’s ability to propagandize you.
So why not block Trump? Strike at his heart since the head dodders. You have blocked harassment, former friends, and querulous exes in the past on social media, haven’t you? Can’t the same be done to a five and dime authoritarian? Block the one who seeks to distract you, harm you, and confuse you about your wages, your health care, your safety, and the possibility of peace.
#BlockTrump because it will disrupt his efforts to overrun us, to bully us, to confuse us, to enrage us, and to distract us when he and his allies get down to their true work.
Historian Timothy Snyder writes that one of the most important rules for resisting totalitarian efforts is to “never obey in advance.” By following the Leader on his favorite outlet, even if it’s to document his lies, aren’t we obeying him in advance, allowing his lies to percolate?
This is a first step and, like many first steps, it’s an easy one. #BlockTrump. If you are not on twitter, go on twitter and #Blocktrump. Let’s not even subtweet his venality anymore. Ignore his taunts and his bullying.
Turn off the voice that importunes and threatens you. #BlockTrump.