I keep seeing hot takes about how we should not pay attention to what Trump is saying on Twitter because it is a distraction from the real issues.
“The real issues,” in these arguments, tend to be his dreadful cabinet appointments, his $25 million fraud settlement, his massive conflicts of interest, and the rampant nepotism in his transition team.
To a certain extent, it is true that his Twitter diarrhea is a distraction, or at least an attempt at one. When the news broke that he was paying $25M to make the Trump University fraud case go away, he was suddenly picking a fight on Twitter with the cast of Hamilton. In a traditional political analysis, the fraud case would certainly be a bigger deal than whatever he was going on about on Twitter, and anyone worrying about the Twitter stuff would be rightly criticized for wasting valuable time and attention on something meaningless.
However, at the risk of beating a dead horse, these are not normal times.
The fraud settlement was a big deal and deserves more attention than it has been getting. But then, the president-elect of the United States threatening a Broadway cast for its exercise of political speech is a pretty big deal as well. The same can be said for this weekend’s juxtaposition of the New York Times’ in-depths reporting on Trump’s business conflicts of interest versus his series of tweets about he potential recounts in Wisconsin and other states.
The reason the Twitter stuff is important is that it is not just a crazy or stupid person spouting off on the internet. It is propaganda, and it needs to be evaluated as such. It is also worth noting that it is entirely possible to pay attention to both the Trump organization’s blatant propaganda efforts and the deep swamp of conflicts, corruption, and craziness that has characterized his campaign and will be at the heart of his presidency. Moreover, given that these two layers are interrelated, it is foolish and misguided to insist that we must ignore one in favor of the other. It all needs to be addressed as a system..