Like the rage of Achilles, Donald Trump’s tweets are sudden, explosive and freighted with tragedy. Thursday brought the most foreboding yet. “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......”
And then: nothing. For a full nine minutes, the world was left to ponder what those ominous six periods might portend. “At the Pentagon,” reports BuzzFeed, the tweet “raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action.”
In the event, Trump was merely announcing an immoral and ill-considered ban on transgender troops, not gearing up for war. But it’s not too much to say that his tweeting has become a threat to world stability. For the sake of his presidency, and much else besides, he should stop.
Seemingly everyone who knows Trump – staffers, lawyers, friends, family – has urged him to do so. Members of Congress have practically begged him. Voters, too, have had their fill. About the only person who supports Trump’s use of Twitter, in fact, is Trump. And he’s doing plenty of damage to himself: contradicting his surrogates, starting rash fights, diminishing his authority and derailing his stated agenda. He may even be putting himself in legal jeopardy.
He is also undermining American politics. What’s official policy and what’s idle musing is known only to the president. At an already grim moment, his tweets are impeding legislation, worsening polarization and bewildering the general public. Day after day, the national conversation gets subsumed by the presidential Twitter feed and its endless grievances.
More worrisome still is the damage Trump is doing in world affairs. His tweets have recklessly upended American policy from Qatar to China to North Korea. They express disdain for the norms of diplomacy and the values of democracy. They have unnerved financial markets, antagonized allies, emboldened dictators, abetted foreign intelligence agencies – and all for what?
To “get the honest and unfiltered message out,” Trump says. And there is surely some benefit in the American people knowing what their president is thinking, even if in 140-character spurts. But that benefit needs to be balanced against the cost – to public discourse, to political culture, to global stability – of this president tweeting.
The founders of American democracy were rightly suspicious of populism and crass appeals to it. The qualities they valued in a president – political restraint, personal modesty, deference to the legislature – are still worth defending. Trump’s heedless tweeting, and the resulting chaos, show exactly what the founders were afraid of, and exactly how dangerous an unfiltered president can be.