Trump triggered an attack on the United States, and explicitly threatened the life of his own Vice-President. Yet a few days later, while most in Congress agree the violence last week was a bad thing, many Republicans, upon reflection, seem to have come around to a position where they do not seem inclined to hold the main instigator responsible, nor willing to work to do anything to stop him from wreaking any more havoc before his time runs out. Saying things like: “I oppose the Democrats very political push to impeach the President“. Or “Those calling for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in response to President Trump’s rhetoric this week are themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence.” Also, the Twitter ban gives them something else to rail against, as if that’s the real “outrage” here; forget about the insurrection…
So if they are not going to even try to do something, anything to stand in Trump’s way to stop him from triggering more of the same or worse, the internet platforms he’s used to spew his garbage across the American landscape have no choice. Because their choice at this point, I believe, isn’t about business or fear of backlash, it’s about their tools being potentially used by the President or his minions to organize additional insurrections.
Let’s talk for a moment about that moment where Trump threatened Mike Pence’s life.
This is one piece of the story that’s been grievously under-told, but is a glaring example of why Trump must be held to account immediately.
Trump made the threat during the speech in which he implored his people to “fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” And immediately march their grievances up to the Capitol. And he’d be marching with them there. Which he didn’t.
And he said the Pence thing in a little bit of a confusing way. So much so that the first couple of times I heard it, I was like “wait, he’s saying what?”
So here’s what he said:
“All Vice-President Pence has to do is send [the certified Electoral College results] back to the States to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people. I just spoke to Mike. I said, ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage.'”
And first what I thought he was saying is he wanted Pence to have the “courage” to stand up to Congress to overturn the election. But no, what he’s actually saying is that Pence would have to have courage if he didn’t do that. Now why would that be?
That’s not innocent talk. In fact, how much more naked a threat do you need? Especially as he’s about to launch that crowd of frenzied followers at the exact location where he knows Pence is, and in the spotlight at that very moment.
That’s mob boss talk.
So, Trump threatens the life of his Vice-President, triggers a seditious attack on Congress, and won’t resign or even behave like an adult for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Yet more than a few of Trump’s enablers on Capitol Hill still aren’t backing off shouting about “unprecedented claims of voter fraud.” Yeah, unprecedented because they’re all from Trump and he won’t shut up. The only thing that’s changed is they’re trying to give themselves a back door out now: saying they never intended to throw out millions of people’s votes and overturn the presidential election, they just wanted to raise issues about states–according to them illegally–making it easier for people to vote during COVID-19. But they too should be allowed to find no quarter in that argument.
Seems over at the White House, Trump’s cabinet members may have settled on a strategy of trying to hold Trump in abeyance by alternately threatening to invoke the 25th Amendment, and then when he behaves himself for a day or 2, saying they’re not really considering that. And then when he shows signs of going off the deep end again, reviving that threat. But that’s going to be a real balancing act to pull off, even if it’s only for 10 more days. I wish them luck, but don’t hold out hope that more robust intervention won’t be necessary.
So if Congress is still widely unwilling to take action, and Pence and others at the White House are improvising, then Twitter has no choice.
A very smart friend of mine disagrees. She thinks Twitter is poking the bear. And that anyone who was already dancing with ideas about the “deep state” and media companies and the Democratic Party being in cahoots, will now be utterly and forever convinced. And she may be right. On the other hand, at least a couple of my Trump supporter friends finally agree that it’s over, and it’s long past time for him to shut up.
As to those who are arguing what Twitter and others are doing is a violation of free speech and the First Amendment, that’s nonsense.
Like when Trump’s former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Tweets:
“Silencing people, not to mention the President of the US, is what happens in China not our country. #Unbelievable”.
Because in China (and Turkey, and Russia, and the Philippines, and…) the government forces private companies to publish propaganda if they want to stay in business. Those companies don’t have the power of “silencing” propaganda. And if they don’t comply, it’s the propagandists who shut those companies down, not the other way around. And often, even if those companies do go along with the government’s demands to spread propaganda, the government forces them to sell to a political ally of the ruler in power, just to be sure nobody’s going get any other ideas in the future. So that’s pretty much exactly the opposite of what’s happening with Twitter vis-a-vis Trump.
I’ve also seen a fair amount of very cynical reporting accusing Twitter and others of only making their move now because they don’t want the Biden administration to start aggressively regulating them. And it’s true, they don’t want that. At the same time, it’s almost inevitable. So anybody who thinks that is the prime motivating factor at this point in time, after what we just all saw this week, is being too clever by half.
And don’t forget, Trump wanted to severely regulate these companies too: he’s been obsessed with putting an end to a law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Trump feels that law gives internet platforms too much leeway to flag or remove his content, since he created the content, not them, and he’s just using them to distribute it. Which is true. But Section 230 also protects those same internet companies against liability for publishing any content they themselves did not produce. Meaning if they didn’t have that protection, they probably would’ve removed Trump much sooner.
Back when I used to work in Silicon Valley, I remember security experts warning many times there’s no way to keep bad actors from accessing the internet for whatever nefarious purposes they want. At best, you might be able to stay 10 days ahead of them before they figure out a way to weasel their way back in. Well, it’s 10 days now until Inauguration Day. So if that’s still the case, it may be enough at least to put this chapter to bed, and then freshly assess what may come next.