Tweety Dick

Sometimes modern life in America is so weird it’s hard to really take it all in.  The increasingly bizarre twists and turns of our politics and political leaders, the corrosive effect of simplistic social media platforms, the constant craving for attention and celebrity status — all combine to create a world where the strange has become routine.

57cc54c17b55c9ceef53dff107138873Consider, for example, how the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reacted to President Trump’s decision to discharge FBI Director James Comey.  Trump’s abrupt firing reminded people of the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Nixon Administration, in which Nixon’s zeal to discharge Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, resulted in the resignation of the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General.

So what did the Nixon Library do in response to this newfound attention?  Did it supply the press with the actual background facts of the incident that the Washington Post called, at the time, “the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis,” so that people could make their own comparisons and draw their own conclusions?

Nah.  It sent out a tweet that said:  “FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian.”  Ha ha!  Boy, that Nixon Library is a laugh riot, isn’t it?  And a class act, besides!  And it sure helps to be reminded that, before Nixon resigned in disgrace after being impeached, there were some bad and ill-advised things that Nixon didn’t do, doesn’t it?

To its credit, the National Archives and Records Administration, which administers the presidential libraries, issued a statement about the Nixon Library tweet.  It noted that “[a]s a federal government agency, the National Archives does not condone or engage in partisan or political conversations,” added that the tweet “was not representative of the policies of the Library or the National Archives,” and noted that the Archives would be “examining the training provided to employees who post to official social media channels as well as reviewing work flows and approval processes to ensure that our social media efforts engage the public in constructive conversations in line with agency policies.”  Fortunately, there apparently is at least one adult in the room.

It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the Nixon Library gave much thought to the snotty tweet; they probably were reveling in the attention they were receiving in connection with the Comey firing and just couldn’t resist getting in a little dig that would boost the trending line of Tricky Dick and his library.  And that’s really the basic problem these days, isn’t it?  People just don’t think twice, or even try to resist their baser impulses.

The President-Elect And His Tweets

Over the past few weeks, as the Donald Trump transition team has vetted candidates for Cabinet-level positions and geared up for the new administration that will take office next year, we’ve started to get a sense of what the next four years will be like.  With important decisions being made and critical planning underway, the post-election process is slowly revealing what kind of President Donald Trump might be.

If I could get one wish, it would be that Mr. Trump decide to stop using Twitter.

trump-the-hashI recognize this probably is a forlorn hope.  In many ways, Trump’s candidacy was driven by social media, and his tweets were a big part of the strategy.  Through his Twitter account, Trump had a forum for outlandish comments and was able to keep his name in the news.  His tweets provided him with lots of free air time, and his inclination, as President, likely will be to keep doing what worked well during the campaign.

And yet, the qualities we are looking for in a President are different from those that can drive a presidential campaign.  Dashing off a tweet seems fundamentally inconsistent with the considered judgment that we hope the occupants of the Oval Office will bring to the position.  (I recognize that President Obama has and uses a Twitter account, which I think is unfortunate, too, but without doing an exhaustive analysis I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that his tweets haven’t been quite as controversial as Trump’s.)

Consider one of the President-elects most recent tweets, which asserts that he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”   Of course, no evidence is cited (Twitter isn’t exactly known for that) but the claim that there were millions of illegal votes seems incredibly reckless — as well as bizarre, since Trump won the election and you would think the prevailing candidate wouldn’t want to cast any doubt on the results in any event.  It’s the kind of charge that might work for a candidate looking for some free media coverage, but it just isn’t suited to the President-elect.  Presidents don’t need to gin up controversy to get their names in the news.

Many Americans are fair and open-minded people; even if they didn’t vote for Trump, they will be willing to give him a chance to show how he will perform as President.  I think they are looking to see whether Mr. Trump shows the reflection and thoughtfulness that are a key part of what we think of as “acting presidential.”  Tweets just don’t fit into the presidential job description.

 

Randomly Dissing The Browns

The Super Bowl is always a tough time of year for Browns fans. We know that, from Super Bowl I through Super Bowl XLVIII, the Browns have never made it. Not once. It’s an annual source of tremendous embarrassment.

So, it’s just adding insult to injury when people start making fun of the teams actually in the Super Bowl by comparing them to the woeful Browns. Last night a tweet went out from Purell, the soap people, saying that the Denver Broncos could use a “refresh” moment, “because right now they look like the Cleveland Browns.” The Purell people later said they “apologize for the insensitive post.” (Who even knew that soap manufacturers tweet about football games — or for that matter that anyone would pay any attention to them? I’m learning something new every day.)

I’m assuming the Purell people were apologizing to we long-suffering Browns fans, because the apology tweet had the hashtag “#Browns fans.” In reality, though, the apology tweet should have gone out to the Denver Broncos. They may have been getting their brains beat in in the biggest game of the year, but no one — no one — deserves to be compared to the Browns.

Twitteridiocy

Twitter may be good for many things, but thoughtful political discourse isn’t one of them.  The 140-character limitation on Twitter messages is just too restrictive.  As a result, many political “tweets” seem idiotic.

IMG_3143Consider this tweet that apparently came from President Obama yesterday:  “RT if you agree: It’s time for Congress to work with the President and ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American.”  “RT” means “re-tweet,” so this little nugget of wisdom no doubt is making its way around the Twitterverse, being re-tweeted by the many supporters of the President.  But, what does the message actually mean?  Would the meaning be any different if it read:  “RT if you agree:  It’s time for the President to work with Congress and ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American” ? Could there possibly be a more banal message?  Does anyone, at any point on the political spectrum, actually disagree with the sentiment that people who work hard should earn a decent living?

No doubt there’s more to it.  Maybe the banality is intended to support an effort to increase the minimum wage, for example.  But couldn’t it just as easily support a tax cut, so those hard-working Americans get to keep more of their money and enjoy a “decent living”?   In fact, the trite tweet could be read as boosting almost any economic legislation, with the exception of the dreaded Prevent a Decent Living for Hard-Working Americans Act.  The utterly generic nature of the tweet, combined with the lack of any context, robs the message of any real meaning.

I certainly hope that the President himself isn’t spending time tweeting; he’s got better things to do.  I suggest, however, that he tell his ghosttweeter to leave the political commentary to actual speeches, where some explanation can occur.  Otherwise, the President is going to come across like a bad parody of the “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey” that used to appear on Saturday Night Live.