Thursday was an all-too-typical day at the Twitter mines for Donald Trump. In addition to giving juicy hints that he was going to end that constitutional crisis thing by simply ending the Constitution, Trump laced his morning rants with all the none-too-subtle racism, misogyny, and simple ignorance that his base demands. And then he spent a lot of time on the topic of the day: what a wonderful job he’s done destroying the free press.
The focus of Trump’s activities at the White House on Thursday, including the setting for his backhanded smack at the Supreme Court, is a meeting on the rising power of social media contrasted with the fall of traditional news sources. In a series of tweets, Trump praised that growing power, while continuing to deride traditional media outlets as “fake news.” According to Trump, social media isn’t just ready to challenge other outlets; it’s ready to completely supplant those sources.
In recent days, not even Fox News has escaped Trump’s slaps at the traditional media. He’s complained that Fox continues to keep up its “balanced” pretense by occasionally having Democrats on the air rather than singing a 24/7 Trump-is-god chorus. And he’s stated his bitter opposition to the idea that Fox has some commentators who dare not to fall in line.
Trump made those attacks from his home base on Twitter—the one place where he knows that he never has to produce a fact, or worry about being challenged by a journalist, or spend a moment sweating over the idea that overt racism and threats of violence might have a downside. Twitter has made it clear that opposing racism has a price, but when you’re Trump, they let you grab your audience by any means you choose. Trump does not mention that most of the current topics on social media have their origins in traditional media. Because, after all, without paid investigative journalists providing stories, social media would be nothing but an absolute sea of unsubstantiated opinion, irrefutable claims, and … yeah, that is the point.
But that doesn’t mean Trump is going to leave social media alone. He’s going to require more hate, more lies, and more unchecked threats. Or else.
In the midst of his promotion of social media as so much better than traditional media, Trump demonstrates his thesis by passing along huge lies about the state of the economy, laughing over the idea that he may just stick around in office for “10 or 14” more years, and delivering good old-fashioned schoolyard bully shots aimed at Elizabeth Warren. This is exactly what Trump feels the media should be: a megaphone for the powerful. Loudest, meanest, ugliest voice wins. If that’s not completely clear, he drops a cherry on top by describing himself as “so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!”
But, Trump warns, social media companies are no longer going to be allowed the “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies.” By which Trump means the mythology on the right that “conservative voices” are being stilled for little things such as death threats, inciting racial hatred, and calling for mass violence. That silencing, says Trump, is going to end.
And as for traditional media … its days are numbered. It will survive only “for a limited period.”
It’s no wonder that Trump is willing to overlook Mohammed bin Salman’s torture and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist, and wave away Vladimir Putin signing off on the murder of 200 journalists. Those are not issues for Trump. They’re something that excites him. Both men are only accelerating a process that Trump completely supports.