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viewpoint

America’s own Don Quixote

| Monday, September 25, 2017

Can you imagine what the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia would have looked like if the founding fathers refused to listen to what the other members had to say? Can you imagine what would have happened if James Madison made pronouncements without any foundation and anticipated the potential arguments of those who might disagree with him, registering his opinion ahead of time and denying debate with them? What would the Constitution have looked like? Could there even have been one? Without discourse nothing can get accomplished; leaders aren’t accountable or responsible and America falters globally and domestically. President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter is, in effect, such an egregious affront to the principles upon which America was built.

Of course, the use of Twitter isn’t itself the problem. In an increasingly digital world, finding new ways of keeping in touch and facilitating debate is only natural. Democracy entails politicians and leaders being accountable to the people who put them in office and the use of social media can be seen as an abstract sense of that idea. President Obama was the first president to have a Twitter account and his ethical utilization of social media bolstered both of his campaign successes. Today, many politicians, business leaders and others employ Twitter and other forms of social media. Although one could argue that tweeting may be one of the least “democratic” means of communicating with the people because it is, in effect, talking “at” people and not “with” them, when used properly it encourages debate and conversation about the topics being discussed.

But facilitating debate is exactly what @realDonaldTrump is not doing. For Trump, Twitter is the 140-character venting of often unreasoned, incendiary opinion intended to preempt discourse. It’s the shield he uses to deflect negative press and transfer the blame and attention onto someone else, whether political opponents, such as Hillary Clinton, or even members of his own party, such as Sen. John McCain, who courageously once again announced that he would not support the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act.

Via Twitter, Trump has escalated the tensions with North Korea, blatantly lied about reports involving the investigation with Russia, shamed his own party and condemned the mayor of London while investigation was still pending concerning another armed attack. The point isn’t that our president should delete his account. The point is that there is no point in trolling straw men and, like Don Quixote, fighting fictitious enemies on battlefronts that either do not exist or that continuously change.

Trump’s use of Twitter goes against the cores of political responsibility and accountability that the founding fathers envisioned. They set the framework for the development of a government that is open in its dealings, where the leaders of the government would be expected to listen to the will of the people. Of course, this is not to say that the voice of the “dissenter” should be prohibited. Dissent is welcome and protected as a civil liberty in our Constitution. Yet, at the core of our nation’s ideals, it is argument and counterargument which contribute to the debate and constructive discourse toward making America the very best it can be. One-hundred-forty–character retaliatory barbs against those with whom the president disagrees, many of which incite distress and discord and, one cannot help but believe, are intended to create division instead of unity, isn’t the way to conduct policy.

Americans need to make Donald Trump accountable for throwing out opinions that don’t allow debate and many of which are attacks on other people. The issue isn’t one of grand, sweeping societal reforms to upend a system and it is not one as dramatic as any sort of revolt. It certainly don’t mean foisting opinions onto others or requiring others to change. This is, in fact, the root of the problem that needs addressing. Americans need to take small steps that add up to big ones, and, ignoring the intentionally and often times adolescent rhetoric from a president who more resembles a child-king who retaliates against anyone who doesn’t affirm his immense and immensely fragile ego than the leader of the world’s greatest democracy, facilitate discussion that leads us to solutions.

Donald Trump has almost 36,000 tweets on his personal account and over 1,200 on the presidential account. But what is being said? In the Quixotic battles that are being waged, the only victor, the only speaker, the only voice in a debate that is shut down before it ever gets off the ground is that of Donald Trump. It is time to realize that the windmills against which America’s current president is waging an offensive war of words aren’t giants and focus on the conversations that matter. As the campaign of Bernie Sanders powerfully demonstrated, college students and young adults are the ones who have the ability to swing and determine the outcome of elections and the future of America. If America’s current leaders across both sides of the aisle will not reign in a president who effortlessly hurls unsubstantiated epithets at those whom he feels might upstage him, most recently professional football players and basketball players, then college students and young adults need to demonstrate, at the polls and in writing campaigns, town hall meetings that they convene and through all forms of social media, like Twitter, that they will no longer vote for or support elected officials who refuse to take a stand against the offenses against fellow Americans and the principles upon which this country was established by a president who is best caricatured as Twitter Man.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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