A lot of hay has been made on both sides of the political aisle over Donald Trump’s affinity for Twitter. Devotees of the Trump Style love him for it, because it gives the public a raw, unfiltered view from the White House that has been so lacking in those scripted-to-the-letter, soundbite friendly statements we’ve always gotten from presidents past. Those who don’t care much for Celebrity Apprentice politics, on the other hand, lament the president’s use of the 140-character snark cannon as somehow beneath the office. Complaints of this sort usually come in some variation of, “Could you imagine President So-And-So doing such a thing?” followed by a lament over the total loss of dignity in our politics these days.
Take, for instance, one tweet of recent vintage:
Sen.Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie),now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
Just another example of Trump’s thin skin getting the better of him, right? He’d be better off to let it go and not make himself–and the presidency–look petty, right?
Now take a look at this little gem, in the wake of Jeff Sessions’ confirmation yesterday:
If Jeff Sessions makes even the tiniest attempt to bring his racism, sexism & bigotry into @TheJusticeDept, he'll hear from all of us.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 9, 2017
Who’s diminishing the office here?
The point should be rather clear to critics who think that the president’s tweeting has brought politics to new lows: that horse bolted from the barn long ago (roundabouts the time Teddy Kennedy, that paragon of virtue, impugned Jeff Sessions’ character to keep him off the bench). The difference is that, up until now, presidents viewed themselves as above the fray.
George W. Bush famously said that he didn’t want to soil the office by resorting to the tactics of his enemies. As a result, he allowed his enemies to define him. Barack Obama, meanwhile, didn’t need to go down into the gutter because he had the media to do it for him. Savvy as he is, it’s doubtful these lessons were lost on Donald Trump. That’s why he’s been on a singular mission to delegitimize the media that has been trying to delegitimize him. The only way he knows how to do that is to take the fight to them. Hence Twitter, which makes that job much easier.
Do I like the state of affairs as it exists now? Not really. I sympathize with the arguments of those who want to see politics in this country elevated. And when it comes to wishing that we could actually debate issues instead of launching personal attacks, nobody has tossed more coins into the fountain than yours truly. If we could see more conversations like the one Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders had the other night, I’d be happier than Michael Moore in a Dunkin’ Donuts.
But like Donald Rumsfeld once said, you go to war with the army you have–and right now, the battlefield is all snark, innuendo, fake news and character assassination. Maybe someday we’ll be able to beat all that back, and DC will start talking about things that real people actually care about. Until then, though, we have Twitter–and someone who isn’t afraid of the asymmetrical warfare being waged on social media.