Politics & Policy

Trump’s Tweets Are Somehow Both Wicked and Boring

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The president’s performance has taught us to be both outraged, and bored of outrage, all at once.

What else is there to say? This morning, while a major tax bill was circulating through the Senate, and North Korea was adverting new portentous announcements, the president of the United States was tweeting inflammatory videos showing Muslims committing assault or anti-Christian desecrations, and then he floated a conspiracy theory that former Republican congressman and current MSNBC morning talk-show host Joe Scarborough is a murderer.

In a sense we shouldn’t be surprised. The president has tweeted demagogically about race and religion before. He has floated insane conspiracies about murder when it can somehow implicate a rival. Ask Ted Cruz. The new twist is the slight national humiliation of watching the prime minister of the United Kingdom take a moment away from a very intense period of negotiations with the EU to express her displeasure at the president of the United States elevating a notorious anti-Islamic group, Britain First (the source of the videos), from her country. I wonder, is America so lost that our own native nativists are unable to supply outrageous tweets for the president to stupidly share?

Some of my more populist friends are already arguing with me. They say that the videos don’t lie. They depict real assaults. And in one case, the one in which two men destroy a kitschy statue of the Virgin Mary, what was depicted was videotaped in pride.

True. But the videos depict the acts of individuals or groups that have names, and the British activist who disseminated them merely attributes them to undifferentiated “Muslims,” a category including well over 1 billion souls, a few million of whom live in the United States peaceably. Even a president who makes prudent judgments about the composition of migration, and is especially on guard against Islamists who might enter into his country, has a duty to foster peace within it.

Trump’s tweet encourages Muslims to be fearful and the wicked, particularly those looking for an excuse to indulge their own derangements, to lash out at Muslims. After all, they think the president is on their side. It would be little different from Bashar al-Assad, tweeting video of explosions happening in Syria and labeling the American perpetrators of it “Christians,” as if the acts depicted were characteristic of the religion’s adherents generally. We would be right to fear reprisal attacks on Christians in Syria after something like that.

As for Trump’s degrading beef with Joe Scarborough, it is yet another addition to the Matterhorn-like pile of evidence that Trump sees the governance of the news cycle and the generation of little plot twists and narrative-driving rivalries as more important than the performance of his job, governing the country. At least cheap-trick television producers have the decency to take their talent for turning the flaws of human nature into revenue-generating attention to the television industry. Trump took his to the White House.

We were a nation founded in elegant parchment documents and high-flown rhetoric. But lately we are a nation disappearing into the black holes of our screens. The president is a creature of reality TV. Even as he insults the media, Trump does it the compliment of making it his main antagonist. And the American people, equipped with little black screens, order up their own bespoke forms of propaganda, aiming it at themselves, trying to jumpstart something like the sensation of human conviction. Or to chase away their boredom, they pretend to act like protagonists themselves. Build a custom Snapchat filter that adds a fake molotov cocktail to your hand, and the #Resistance to your cap. Make America Great Again, by RTing the Donald. The black screens are like a two-direction orifice. The president shouts through it, and we shout into it.

It’s a strange thing to look at Trump’s Twitter account in the morning, to be both outraged, and bored of outrage, all at once. To not know whether you are becoming inured to depravity, or whether these events have just made you aware of the extent to which it already existed all around you.

There are little Donalds all around us. Guys who show up at the office or the shop with some new weird story that explains why they couldn’t complete their work, or why they couldn’t make their payments on time. The stories become more fantastical, or pathetic, over time, as they gauge your willingness to suspend disbelief and indulge them. Sometimes they are harmless and amusing. But these little Donalds usually lose their jobs, an event that becomes some other fantastic story they tell to others. It’s never their fault.

Anyway, I can’t wait to get to that with the Big Donald who, for reasons that I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand, sits in the Oval Office. I can’t wait to hear his story of how he left office. Until then, what can we do, but the same thing we do with the little Donalds? Take our complaint into someone else’s cubicle, or into our private chat rooms: Can’t this guy spare us the drama and just do his fricken’ job already?

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