A stark image here, via Gavan Reilly:
— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) November 7, 2020
This is, of course, an absolutely terrible development, but most people seem incapable of understanding why.
That’s largely because attitudes to Trump fall into two camps, and they are almost irreconcilable. The first camp includes almost every Irish journalist, and most Irish people, and it even includes yours truly. To that camp, Trump’s refusal to concede the election, and to allege wrongdoing, is an unprecedented and despicable assault on civic virtue. The rules are clear: You fight the election, you lose, you concede, and you help unite the country behind the winner.
To these people, Trump is an abomination, whose tweets undermine the very fabric of democratic society, spread falsehoods, and lies, and tear his country apart. When tearful young reporters appear on CNN to say things like “I worry about the country”, they are not lying. They really do feel as if Trump is undermining Americanism, and America, itself.
And to them, Twitter blocking and censoring the President of the United States in the days after a contested election isn’t a bad thing – it’s a good and necessary protection against a concerted attempt to undermine democracy. It’s almost the literal definition of “virtue signalling” – we will not let these lies stand, because they are an attack on our virtue.
But there’s another tribe out there, too, and it is not intended to be demeaning to note that they scoff at concepts of civic virtue.
And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t it absurd, in its own way, that an election that consisted of two men swearing that the other would destroy all that was good and decent should end with one of them saying “oh well, game’s over now, you bested me, old chap, let’s get on with it?”
Isn’t it objectively more honest, and true to human form, to say “no way, I don’t accept this, and I’m going to fight it with everything I have?”
And even if you don’t accept any of that, how do these people see twitter’s actions? Do they see an act of public virtue by a social media company, or do they see just another step in the campaign to steal the Presidency, this time by silencing the President of the United States himself? After all, as they’re saying in Trump forums, the first thing you do in a Coup is to seize control of communications.
Whether the President’s tweets are true or false is largely immaterial. Nobody cares. Those who voted for him don’t care, and those who didn’t vote for him care as much about it as they’re ever going to. What is clear, though, is that when he says “they’re trying to rig this against me” and then twitter censors his tweets, his case with his own voters is strengthened, not weakened.
In many ways, four years on, the opponents of Trump have forgotten nothing, and learned nothing. Nobody has ever cast a vote for him because they care about civic virtue, or honesty, or the decency of conceding an election once it looks to be done. If those were things they cared about, Mrs. Clinton would have been President.
What they do care about is the feeling that those who preach about civic virtue shut them out of the process, treat them like rubes, and look down on their passions and interests. They don’t know, necessarily, if the election was stolen, but do you know what? For all the talk of civic virtues, they wouldn’t put stealing an election past CNN, or Biden, either.
And when they see twitter censoring basically everything Trump tweets, does that make it look more, or less, like theft, or even a coup?
Some of you reading this will scoff at all that, and say “who cares what those losers think?”. To which the answer is: You do. The whole rationale behind censoring these tweets, after all, is to stop Trump from inciting his proletarian base into a dangerous revolt. But what if the censorship is likely to backfire, and fan the flames of the myth of the stolen election for years to come?
Trump’s popularity is everything you hate about him: He doesn’t play by the long established rules. He’s not going to do a George H.W. Bush and talk about “getting behind this new President”. He’s not going to pay tribute to Biden and his supporters. He’s not going to roll over and take it, like others before him.
This may be despicable. But that’s not how millions and millions of his supporters see it. The civic virtue that twitter thinks it’s defending, with all its phoney “aren’t we all on the same team really” schtick, is exactly what they hate.
Censoring his tweets won’t make things better. It will make them worse.