Freedom of speech seems to be a natural notion in America. We pretty much say what we want to say. But if you were President of the United States, should the same rule of free speech apply? You are not now just responsible for your own speech but for a nation of diverse citizens. Should you be free to say or rant about anything on your mind if you are an executive of the national government? What if your rant jeopardizes national security or violates provisions of the Constitution? What if it baited another government into a certain action not approved by Congress? What if you as President verbally attack certain individuals or certain groups of American citizens?
Some political scientists are beginning to look at this question since the President has brought Twitter into the executive branch as a daily portal of communication to the American people and to the world. It is a new phenomenon, never before used by a sitting president. A Twitter presidency has both positive possibilities and potentially negative effects. Time will tell how we differentiate each and how the general public will know the difference.
A few political scientists have suggested establishing a bright line between presidential executive policy or administration statements and personal feelings, opinions or resentments. The former should be protected as leadership for America, while the latter should be protected but noted as personal, whether stated with integrity or not. This sounds like a valuable goal, but just how practical would it be to apply?
Let’s take a look at President Trump’s more than 11,000 tweets since he took office to see. Over half of them can be placed under the category as “attacks,” aimed at everything and everyone from the Russian investigation, Ukrainian investigation, the Federal Reserve, and Black football players to Amazon’s founder Jeff Bazos. But in more than 2,000 tweets, Mr. Trump has praised one person, himself. Does this mean that in Twitter presidencies to come to Twitter as a governmental portal are not reliable? No, it just means that there must be some rules established that can sift veracity from prevarication so that the public can clearly understand.
The President has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that pitch conspiracy and extremist paranoia. Among them tweet that seems to support white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots and adherents to QAnon, promoting a conspiracy theory involving satanic pedophiles and the “deep state” followers who have been labeled a potential domestic terror threat by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Remember, in America, more citizens have been killed or wounded by local, homegrown, terrorists than by any foreign country terrorists.
An analysis of presidential tweets shows that the President has bragged 183 times about his crowd size or applause at events; attacked immigrants 570 times; praised dictators 132 times; and called the free press the “enemy of the people” 36 times. On 16 occasions, Mr. Trump referred to himself as everyone’s “favorite president.”
Here is what is happening. From a purely political standpoint, Trump aids seek to and have cultivated an image of a man who understands “regular people.” His political base believes that he “tells it like it is.” Trump’s team believes that his unvarnished writing, poor punctuation and increasing profanity on Twitter signal authenticity. The team presents it as a democratization of information. Indeed, Twitter can be that, but it must be done on the basis of real facts as opposed to governmental or presidential propaganda. There has to be a way to immediately tell the difference by the information consuming public, regardless of who is tweeting. Here’s the problem for all of us. We are going to read the tweets of our President. He represents us at home and abroad. The problem is that our current President tweets as a shooter from the hip without prior thought. That is partly why we receive tweets that are untrue. The other problem is that the President has made Twitter a quasi-official department of the governmental administration by issuing executive orders through it and even using it to fire government employees or dismiss executive appointments. The Twitter executive branch receives more attention from the President than any other executive department.
“Mr. Trump’s Twitter habit is most intense in the morning, when he is in the White House residence, watching Fox News, scrolling through his Twitter mentions and turning the social media platform into what an aide called the ‘ ultimate weapon of mass dissemination.’
Of the attack tweets identified out of the 11,000 plus tweets, nearly half were sent between 6 a.m. and 10.00 a.m., hours that Mr. Trump spends mostly without his advisors.
After working early, Mr. Trump typically watches news shows recorded the previous night on his ‘Super Tivo,’ several DVRs connected to a single remote. (The devices are set to record “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on Fox Business Network, ‘Hannity,’ ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ and ‘The Story With Martha MacCallum’ on Fox News; and ‘Anderson Cooper 360’ on CNN.)
He takes in those shows, and the ‘Fox & Friends’ morning program, then flings out comments on his iPhone. Then he watches his tweets reverberate on cable channels and news sites. In the last three months, Trump’s Twitter mass has tripled.”
Thirty-three months of more than 11,000 tweets which have evolved into an obsession covering personal attacks on individuals and issuing official governmental administration raises the question, is there a different standard of speech for a Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States than the average “Joe-Blow” citizen; or, should there be?
When it comes to fact-checking what President Trump tweets officially from the White House on U.S. economics, other politicians, the Mueller Report, Syria, Russia, immigration, and those he sees as his enemies, more than half the tweets incorporate false facts presented as true or opinion statements that do not hold up under scrutiny. It can be said that the Twitter Presidency is primarily propaganda.
The question becomes, should we expect more veracity from our leader, or is this type of misdirection protected as free speech? One can easily visualize how Twitter can be a vibrant force for free speech for every citizen and future Twitter presidencies. But how can we guarantee truth versus falsehoods?
Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution, protects free speech by representatives and senators in Congress; “for any speech or debates in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.”
However, for the Executive Office, the Constitution seems by its silence to immunize the President from anything he says, as long as what he says does not break the law. If that occurs, “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all for impeachments.”
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