I was preparing to appear on CNN Tuesday night when the breaking news alert came that President Trump had tweeted about the size of his nuclear “button” — as a response to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s statement about having a nuclear “button” on his own desk.
Almost immediately, some commentators began pleading with Twitter to block the President’s account for violating the platform’s rules against abusive behavior.
It is unlikely that the President’s tweeting about North Korea gets us anywhere geopolitically, and I think the tone and volume of his tweets makes each subsequent one less impactful. But Trump’s latest tweet revives a longstanding and critical question: is it Twitter’s job to censor the President of the United States?
My view is a resounding no, that wading into those waters puts American democracy in dangerous territory.
My advice to those who spend each day refreshing their Twitter feeds for their next hit of outrage is to stop taking the bait. No 71-year-old person who so enjoys a hobby is going to stop, and I doubt anyone in this world enjoys anything more than Donald Trump enjoys snapping off a signature missive.
We must accept that the President sees himself as our national pundit-in-chief, whose job it is to set the national conversation. He is, hands down, the most influential and skillful Twitter troll of all time. Whether this is good or bad for the presidency is a debate for another day, but it is the current reality of his office. And it is not going to change.
I concede that tweeting about nuclear buttons is something worth debating vigorously, especially since no one will be around to say, “I told you so,” if our countries do start a nuclear war using the platform of a company that has never turned an annual profit.
But we can’t expect a corporation — as my fellow panelmate Symone Sanders suggested last night — to censor the President. I was stunned, frankly, that someone with such close ties to the most anti-corporate wing of the Democratic Party would want this to happen.
I thought Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters hated corporate influence in our politics. But now, because the President said something they don’t like (and is admittedly weird), they clamor for a corporation to intervene?
There are political remedies for people who don’t like the President’s tweeting. They can try to win more seats in the Congress during the congressional midterms, and then ask their representatives to impeach the President (which I fully expect to happen should the Democrats take control of the US House). Or they can try to beat the President in the 2020 presidential election.
Either is a decidedly better remedy — at least the pursuit of it — than pleading with corporations to censor our elected leaders. And early indications are that Twitter agrees with me, as a statement from the company indicates no appetite for shutting down the President’s stream of consciousness.
Those demanding this action from Twitter should put the shoe on the other foot: What if a conservative commentator called on American cable and broadcast outlets to stop airing Bernie Sanders’ comments slamming capitalism? What if I said it was dangerous for a politician to suggest upending our entire system of free markets, and it was therefore justified to block his statements from reaching the public’s ears?
We know the answer: The American left and media establishment would be outraged about such a suggestion, and rightfully so.
We can all be upset or outraged at the speech and actions of our elected officials on any given day, especially in this case. But to suggest a solution of corporate intervention is, in my opinion, a dangerous school of thought in a country built on free speech and a process-driven representative democracy.