The Corner

A Suggestion for Reading Trump’s Tweets

In response to Was Abe Fortas Filibustered?

I’d like to wholeheartedly endorse Jim Geraghty’s post. He’s right — “not every Trump tweet needs to dominate the news cycle for a day.” Indeed, I think there’s a framework for understanding and evaluating which tweets to take seriously and which to note and discard. By this point it’s pretty darn clear that not every tweet signifies a new action or policy.

For example, people got very upset over Trump tweeting, “The United States must greatly expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” but expanding nuclear capacity requires an immense financial and technical investment. It requires strategic reviews, plans, designs, and appropriations. Let’s wait and debate Trump’s new nuclear policy until, well, a new policy emerges.

Similarly, there was much hand-wringing over his tweet about flag-burning. News flash: POTUS can’t ban flag-burning. You can’t strip citizenship with a tweet. That takes legislation. That takes reversing Supreme Court precedent. So far, in the real world, his tweet has been little more than a flag-burning stimulus act, with left-wing protesters more than happy to torch Old Glory just to show they’re not afraid. 

There are times when the tweet is the action or reflects the action. If Trump attacks someone on Twitter, that’s a meaningful action because of the immediate real-world effect. If he announces a policy change that’s within his power to make, that reflects an action. So does announcing presidential appointments. As for everything else, I’d suggest a healthy dose of skepticism and perhaps a side portion of indifference.

Moreover, skepticism and indifference send a signal to allies and adversaries that they should also wait and see what Trump does before they react too much to what Trump says. Imagine if the next provocative tweet is greeted less with headlines and more with shrugs.

I’m not endorsing the way Trump tweets, and he doesn’t care if anyone does. By now, we know he’s going to do what he wants. But we can certainly decide how we react. He’ll be president in less than two weeks, and presidents have to take actions. Let those actions speak louder than his tweeted words.  


David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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