Donald Trump flew to the presidency, in part, on the strength of his oft-outrageous and provocative Twitter feed, which he effectively used to pick fights with critics and the media.
The election appears not to have curbed his penchant for social media: He’s still being outrageous and provocative. He’s still picking fights with critics and the media.
And those pronouncements often make big headlines, but some observers say the media should stop covering Trump’s tweets so obsessively.
Should the president spend so much time on social media? How much attention does it deserve? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
This would be a good time to say, “Let Donald be Donald,” except Americans have no indication that Donald can be anything other than Donald.
That said, he’s going to tweet, and the presidency shouldn’t be confined to 18th century modes of communication. Twitter is a part of how we live now.
But Trump should probably give more care to crafting his tweets. And the media should be more thoughtful about how they cover him.
Why? The president’s words matter. They can shake markets or put countries on a war footing, and they can do that even if the president is merely horsing around. That’s why a whole information infrastructure has grown up around the Oval Office — not just to communicate what the president wants communicated but also to avoid accidentally communicating ideas the president doesn’t want communicated.
So it matters when Trump tweets that flag burning should be punished by a loss of citizenship.
It matters when he bashes journalists who don’t follow his favored storylines.
And it matters when he makes wild, unsupported accusations that millions of people voted illegally — against him.
Those tweets hint at an authoritarian personality and warn the American people that they should be on guard for their liberty under the new president. To purposefully ignore these comments is to let our vigilance ebb.
Trump’s fiercest critics say his tweets are a distraction, that the media should ignore the president-elect’s pronouncements and focus instead on areas of substance — the conflicts of interest between his business holdings and his presidential duties, for example.
The underlying presumption, though, is that the media can’t walk and chew gum. In this age of diminished journalistic resources, in which every newspaper seems to go through a round of buyouts and layoffs every year, that presumption is understandable.
But one area of American life that’s not going under-covered? The White House.
So it’s possible — necessary, actually — to pay attention to what President-elect Trump says and what he does. There’s no need to choose between the two.
If the media is going to flip out over every presidential tweet, the next four years are going to be hilariously tedious. Or tediously hilarious. Probably a bit of both, with plenty of horror and embarrassment added to the mix.
Horror and embarrassment for the media, that is.
How long can the media maintain these dangerously high levels of dudgeon before the entire edifice collapses?
Selena Zito was one of the few journalists in the United States who understood Trump early on. As it turns out, Zito remains one of the few journalists who understand the president-elect.
“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally,” she wrote in the liberal-leaning Atlantic in September.
Should we take seriously and literally a president-elect who thinks voter fraud is widespread? At the risk of lapsing into logical fallacy, it’s hardly clear that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence — especially when states like California, where Trump’s opponent dominated the popular vote, recently began issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants and registering to vote is as easy as visiting the secretary of state’s website.
Should we take seriously and literally a president-elect who thinks burning the American flag ought to be penalized by jail and perhaps even “loss of citizenship”? True, the U.S. Supreme Court twice ruled that flag-burning laws are unconstitutional. Yet not so long ago, a flag-burning amendment to the Constitution was broadly popular. Trump’s opponent even co-sponsored a bill in the U.S. Senate to make burning the flag punishable by a year in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.
Maybe the better question is whether we should take seriously a press corps that refuses to look closely at voter registration shenanigans and seems to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court has the last word on political questions — or, at least the ones that are most congenial to a liberal outlook.
Trump’s tweets are outrageous by design. But they also help clarify our political differences — and make the media out to be fools in the bargain. Why mess with success?
Joel Mathis is an award-winning writer in Kansas. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or www.facebook.com/benandjoel.