Why we should take our so-called president’s tweets seriously

We’re better than his tweets, but only if we take them seriously

President Trump was up in the morning in a fit again:

It’s only been a few weeks in and Trump is already having problems with our nation’s checks and balances. In keeping with his patterns from the election, whenever something doesn’t go his way or someone disagrees with him, his first response is to attack the aggressor’s character, strength, or credentials. (Expect that if the proceedings don’t go his way, he’ll say it’s unfair and/or rigged, but if it does go his way, he’ll say that justice was done.)

Note that when he fired Sally Yates, he started by attacking her strength and character: He called her a betrayer and “weak.” I don’t think anyone expected her to last the week, but the rhetoric attached to her dismissal was alarming.

In response to Judge Robart’s blocking his executive order, we see the same pattern: “so-called” attacks the credentials and authority of Judge Robart, and Trump’s response follows. With the characteristic exclamation point, of course!

Let’s pause on that exclamation point. It signals decisiveness, urgency, and power. It leaves no room to wonder what he’s feeling, how he thinks, or what he intends to do.

We see the same pattern with his response to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s video response to President Trump’s criticism at the National Prayer Breakfast:

And his long-running campaign against the New York Times exhibits the same pattern:

We see the same rhetorical structure in every case. It’s a systemic delegitimization of whoever he disagrees with. That he has now turned his attention to judges is something to be concerned about. And it’s high time that we stop pretending as if he’s an ignoramus who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

That would be like claiming I didn’t know what I was doing when used “so-called” in the headline of this post, even if I’m using it ironically.

Before posting this story, I was doing some fact-checking and came across Will Baude’s “The deadly serious accusation of being a “so-called judge”. Baude is doing much as I am and trying to point to the Trump’s rhetoric, but there’s a paragraph from his piece that I want to pull out:

In general, I do not think we should read too much into the President’s tweets (and indeed, I think our political discourse might be healthier if we did not read them at all!).

This statement highlights one of the tensions we felt from the election, as well. Trump supporters tended to care less about his tweets, and more about his general promises. Everyone else, it seems, did pay attention to his tweets and especially the way in which he’d go on one of his early morning tweetstorms against, well, whoever aggrieved him the previous day.

I suspect that Trump voters thought he’d change his Twitter ways or that someone else would be managing his account and that all of the pettiness we’ve seen and continued to see would be a thing of the past after Inauguration. And yet here we are.

We’re thus left in a bind: If we take his tweets seriously — meaning that we’re actually taking him to task for what he’s saying, how he’s saying it, how it represents us as a people, and how it shows what his priorities are— we have to take seriously how much it’s undermining our democracy, sense of decency in communication, and the example it’s setting for our children. If we don’t take his tweets seriously, then we’re resigning to the fact that the voice of the President of the United States of America isn’t important to listen to.

When we implicitly or explicitly agree that our national discourse would be healthier if we didn’t read the president’s tweets, we’ve abdicated our responsibility to demand that the president speak for the people and respect our traditions and values. We are better than his tweets, but only if we take them seriously.