A Washington Post Op-Ed:
Hot on the heels of Donald Trump’s latest outrageously outrageous tweet – in which he suggested that we either imprison people who burn the flag or strip them of their citizenship – it’s time for Twitter to take action and ban Donald Trump from the service.
Once the self-described free-speech wing of the free-speech party, Twitter has for the past several years vocally defended its prerogative to ban anyone (on the right) from its service for essentially any reason it sees fit. Often these bans are justified under rather nebulous notions of abuse or “targeted harassment,” the idea being that anyone with sufficiently high numbers of followers who singles out someone else for criticism bears a measure of responsibility when that person’s followers viciously attack the criticized individual.
Since it caters to celebrities and uses their fame to promote its own brand, Twitter has been hesitant to ban anyone famous in real life from the service regardless of his or her bad, abusive behavior. One imagines Twitter might make an exception for Trump. Undoubtedly, the service could find some justification for applying the targeted-harassment rubric to the president-elect.
Some conservatives would, understandably, be upset if Twitter undertook such a draconian action. After all, calling for the punishment of those engaged in the political activity of burning the flag is a time-honored bipartisan tradition, a measure supported by a number of Republicans as well as, well, Hillary Clinton (when the flag-burning was intended to “incite violence”). And Dianne Feinstein. And Harry Reid.
Let’s also not forget that burning the flag isn’t the only form of expression that some elected officials want to ban. After all, the liberal consensus is that Citizens United v. FEC – a case that revolved around banning the distribution of a documentary criticizing an elected official ahead of an election – must be overturned as soon as possible. For the good of the republic, naturally. Then, of course, you have the insidious-yet-growing idea that “hate speech” should not be protected by the First Amendment, an idea that could just as easily be applied to hateful behavior such as burning the flag as it could be applied to desecrating a Koran or yelling epithets at minorities.
So, sure, Trump is not really an outlier in his desire to curtail First Amendment freedoms; he’s simply more visible and, frankly, more concerning, given that he’s soon to be clothed in immense power. Yet Twitter should still strongly consider banning him from the platform for a pair of important reasons.
The first is the sanity of the press corps. Like Pavlov’s dogs salivating over every ding, we cannot help ourselves when it comes to the president-elect’s Twitter feed. Because Twitter’s self-bubbling leads writers to believe that whatever is being discussed via 140 characters or fewer at any given time is of utmost importance, whatever dumb thing Trump tweets is sure to dominate the headlines and cable chyrons every day. As one cad noted on Twitter, not even the death of Fidel Castro can stop the Trump Train from derailing the media’s attention.
The media already looks – and, frankly, kind of is – out of touch with the so-called common man. And while there’s little recent polling on the subject, I’d be surprised if the media isn’t seriously out of step with the public on the subject: It’s a classic wedge issue that produces divisive results among voters but near-unanimity journalists (including myself). It’s probably best for everyone if the media isn’t tempted into demonstrating its remove from the values of the general public every time the president-elect trolls it.
The second reason for taking Trump’s Twitter account away from him permanently is that, honestly, it’s for his own good. Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the big shock on election night was the report that for the final week or so of the campaign, Trump had his Twitter access revoked by his staff – a move that kept his flamboyant comments out of the media and kept focus on Clinton and the FBI investigation.
Now look: I’m no fan of Trump. I’ve compared him to, among other things, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, a populist psychopath who murdered his own followers for fun. But, for better or worse, he’s going to be the president. And, like America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks, I hope that he does so well in the position and is so good for the U.S. of A. that I have no choice but to eat crow and vote for him in 2020.
For there to be any chance of this happening, however, he needs to learn the lesson of the final weeks of his campaign, put down his phone and get off Twitter forever. And if he can’t control himself? Well, maybe Twitter can do us all a solid and remove the temptation altogether.
(c) The Washington Post · Sonny Bunch