The Slatest

Mute Trump

For four years, you had to read what this guy tweeted. Now you don’t.

Donald Trump, smirking in his seat, looks down and taps at his cellphone.
Donald Trump and his phone. Saul Loeb/Getty Images

It’s not over yet. Even assuming an orderly transfer of power (quite a big if), Donald Trump will still be president for 74 days—days in which he is no longer accountable to the will of the electorate, nor bound to anything but his own destructive desires. Even with a light at the end of the tunnel, getting through these next weeks will be tough, as Trump and his grasping surrogates do everything in their power to smash up the joint before the new tenants move in. There’s a lot of damage they can still do, so if you are a person who cares about democracy and the rule of law, you should not check out. Except for this one thing, which you should absolutely do immediately, even before you finish reading this post: mute Trump.

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I mean this literally. If for some reason you still follow Trump on Twitter, or even if you just follow people prone to signal-boosting his messages, it’s time to rid yourself of those negative influences in your life. Trump has described social media as his secret weapon. It’s his chief tool for circumventing and discrediting the mainstream media, spreading lies about the election, and passing on crackpot conspiracy theories. He will likely use it to bark about why he won’t concede. But that weapon doesn’t function in a vacuum. Part of Trump’s strategy, to the extent that it’s deliberate and not purely compulsive, is to keep the focus on him, even when he doesn’t deserve it.

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The argument for not muting him these past four years has been that anything the president says, whether in an official document or via RANDOMLY capitalized tweets, is of consequence. And Trump has pushed that understanding to its limit, exploiting the fact that even his most egregious nonsense will be repeated, if only sometimes to debunk it. But now Trump has lost fair and square, in an election where more Americans voted than at any time in the nation’s history. His only hope is to undermine the legitimacy of that vote, which he’s been doing by baselessly sowing doubts about electoral integrity for months, and, in the past day, claiming states he hasn’t won. Twitter has already taken to hiding Trump’s most flagrantly misleading tweets behind warning labels, and if something is too toxic for Twitter, you don’t want anything to do with it.

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Trump isn’t a schoolyard bully, exactly; ignoring him won’t make him go away. (That advice never worked too well for schoolyard bullies, either.) But his tweets are as often designed to distract from his actions as brag about them, and more than anything what we need to do for the next 12 weeks is keep our eye on the ball. Let Trump whine about the unfairness of the election, the rigged system, the ungrateful Republican politicians who started edging silently away the minute they smelled Trump’s blood in the water. If he says something substantive, like about how he’s using the transition period to gut regulatory agencies or strip protections from career civil servants, you’ll hear about it from someone else, someone reputable. If you want information on whatever election lawsuit he’s filed, get it from a source that isn’t rage-tweeting from a golden toilet.

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Muting Trump won’t silence him. But what it will do is prevent him from controlling the conversation and your life. As the second debate made clear, Trump thrives not just by spreading disinformation but by drowning out the truth, flooding the zone so that it’s a full-time job just keeping up. The past few days have showed the limits of his ability to do that, though. When he’s prevented from controlling, or starring in, the narrative, his words don’t have the same force. There’s little doubt that Trump will continue to exert influence over American politics after he leaves the White House, or at least try to. But instead of ascending, he is now a wounded beast of prey. And the best thing to do with a wounded animal is keep your distance until it bleeds out.

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