One final thought: What opportunities are there to use the president-elect’s embrace of social media to encourage smart civic engagement among our students? What responsibilities come with having such access to the future president and how can we encourage students to do so in a productive way?

I follow and, on occasion, respond to Donald Trump’s tweets. There, I said it. In fact, the more I do the more I consider it a form of healthy civic engagement. President Obama and other elected officials use twitter, but it is not always clear when their tweets are published by staffers. There is no question that Trump’s output is his own and this both thrills his supporters and horrifies his detractors.

But from where I sit what I find fascinating is that this is the first time in American history when citizens can respond directly to a president-elect in real time. We all have equal access. Think about that for a minute.

We are privy to the daily thoughts of our most powerful elected official in this country and I for one welcome it, even as I find much of what he has to say troubling. Regardless of his intent the president-elect’s tweets and “tweet storms” compliment our democratic ideals and I hope he continues to utilize it moving forward. The more information, the better.

I have responded in many ways over the past weeks. Some, like the above response, are a bit snarky that note my disapproval or even horror, but I am always respectful.

Of course, I do not expect Mr. Trump to “re-tweet” or “love” my responses. If you respond early enough to his tweets you are guaranteed a few thousand responses from his most diehard defenders that will send chills up your spine.

In the end, my tweets are nothing more than a simple way for me to signal to the rest of the world that I am listening to what this man has to say and that I have a voice.

About Kevin Levin

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29 comments add yours

  1. Whether we agree with Trump or not, he calling for no more than the punishment called for in 18 U.S. Code 700 for desecration of the flag.

      • In reading the SC decision, it appears the ruling involved a Texas penal code charge not the U.S. code section I cited. All I’m saying is that what Trump recommended as punishment isn’t as excessive as it might seem.

        • I appreciate the comments, but I would really like to keep this post on the subject at hand. That tweet was used just as an example, though I understand the desire to respond to it. Thanks for your understanding.

        • Nowhere in that US Code does it mention loss of US citizenship.

          Trump is a reed in the wind. If enough people show him he’s out of touch, I think he’ll reel himself in (or at least those around him will), as he somewhat did at the end of the election.

  2. I suspect Trump has forgotten about or doesn’t respect the very 1st amendment, freedom of speech. Of course that’s often true for many who don’t understand what it really means. They seem to only believe that it applies to people who say things they agree with. There is NO freedom of speech unless there is freedom to say unpopular things. To put someone in jail for burning a flag as a protest is incomprehensible. To even think of taking away citizenship is orders of magnitude beyond that.

    And it’s comments like this from Trump that frighten me. If you don’t agree with him, even when he spouts unproven facts like the millions of illegal popular votes, you’re not just disagreeing with him, you’re his enemy and not even a true American.

    • Hi Allen,

      I agree with the thrust of your comment, which reinforces the point I wanted to make in the post that Americans have access to what this man thinks and can voice their response.

  3. Where is the line for what is beneath the office of the presidency? A not inconsiderable number of people would argue there isn’t a line but I believe there still is. From a marketing standpoint it might make sense to Tweet, to play sax on a late night show, or appear on “The View”. But the president isn’t the niche marketer in chief. He or she is the President of the United States and every action they take is viewed around the world by a myriad of audiences. He can diminish himself and how we are viewed by appearing less than thoughtful and engaged. Nuance matters and communicating in trivial ways doesn’t allow for much of that.

    Some people would argue they want a president like themselves or who can relate to them. I don’t. I want someone smarter, quicker, more resourceful than me. Someone who can step into a room, digest conflicting ideas, and make better decisions than I would. He or she doesn’t have to chat with Conan O’Brien to establish his bona fides with me. Once the election is over for better for worse that question is answered.

    To your original question-I don’t think social media lends itself to “smart” civic engagement. The opposite is likely true. What it encourages is verbal bricks being thrown through cyber windows. The pessimist in me looks at what we’ve become in this era and pictures the country as a nation of people on islands with one way radios incessantly transmitting, not to communicate but on the assumption the rest of the world needs to hear what we above all others have to say. Such is hubris.

    I’m not a Luddite. I have a Facebook account and I’m “Linkedin”. But I fear we have a generation rising which is replacing books with bursts of information and conversation with people who have opposing views with barrages of cyber invective.

    We fought a civil war in large part because the nation had divided into two camps which thought the other was an existential threat. The papers of the day traded in stereotypes, fanned the fires, offered simplistic solutions. And so we imploded, ultimately to the good end of slavery but at a frightful cost. We will not go to war with each other now, but we can and are paralyzing ourselves by our inability to tolerate discourse. And there has been and will be a terrible price paid for that.

    We will not persuade each other through tweets, we will not enlighten each other through Facebook, and woe be unto the nation lead by anyone who believes otherwise.

    • First, thank you very much for the thoughtful comment. It’s exactly what I was looking for.

      Where is the line for what is beneath the office of the presidency?

      I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do think we need to distinguish the embrace of social media like twitter and the content that is posted. I suspect that we both agree that the overwhelming amount of content posted by President-elect Trump is inappropriate and an embarrassment to the office that he will soon hold. At the same time I can’t help but wonder about the possibilities about a president that is more comfortable utilizing it all the while appreciating its many very real pitfalls.

      To your original question-I don’t think social media lends itself to “smart” civic engagement. The opposite is likely true. What it encourages is verbal bricks being thrown through cyber windows.

      We are actually not too far apart on this. I am certainly no stranger to those “verbal bricks” but a concise and well-thought out tweet can make a statement and represent an important aspect of civic engagement even if it is simply signals the author’s presence.

      • Thanks. The funny thing is blog comments come closer to encouraging productive conversation than the short forms do, but even then there is an intensity to them makes it very easy to veer off into unproductive argument.

        Trump isn’t doing himself or us any favor with the tweets. They just confirm the fears many people have that he isn’t presidential in his demeanor.

        At least we didn’t have social media during the antebellum era. The war would probably have started in the early 1850’s if we had. Can you imagine Millard Fillmore tweeting that Buchanan was a “dough face”?

  4. What’s most disturbing about Trump’s verbal diarrhea via Twitter is the likelihood of causing an international incident when he shoots from the hip then refuses to apologize.

    I’m reminded of that scene in “Lincoln” where the president is in the telegraph office late at night, just him and one tired telegrapher. Lincoln prepares a message regarding whether Alexander Stephens and the rest of the Confederate peace party should stay at Hampton Roads or come to Washington, DC. Lincoln is about to have a message sent to bring them to the capital, but at the last minute changes his mind and instead rewrites the message to have them stay, and he will go them instead.

    A leader should remain calm and, at least to some degree, calculating.

  5. What the heck does this have to do with the Civil War? And the student reference is really, really weak. Why don’t you just start a political blog? It would save time, and you wouldn’t have that troubling step of applying your present-day views to things that happened a century and a half ago.

    • I appreciate the concern, but it’s my blog and I get to decide what I write about. If you have trouble with that I suggest you go elsewhere. Good day.

      • I’m sure if your post was pro-Trump there would be no complaining about the politics. Confederate blogs are always writing about modern politics … usually more than they write about the actual Civil War.

        If anything, you talk about Trump LESS than other people in the Civil War blog community. If I had a penny for every time I saw a Trump sign paired with a CBF, I would be as rich as he is.

        I got banned from a Confederate images group on Facebook because some guy posted a pic of himself in a CBF hat holding a sign saying “Trump=Truth” … and I commented saying that Trump is from Queens, and if the South had won, he would be president of a foreign country.

        I was called a Troll and kicked out. Gotta love those non-political people. :p

        • As I pointed out, I am less interested in Trump’s politics or even the content of his tweets than with the historical significance of the fact that he so openly embraces it as a form of communication. I am not surprised by the comment in question.

  6. Contrary to what the first comment says, the United States Code does not call for loss of citizenship for someone who burns the flag. Revocation of citizenship has been described by the courts as “cruel and unusual” punishment. What if the president tweets out calls for other cruel punishments for his opponents?

    A president does not have the right to unguarded public moments. A Twitter storm could send markets crashing or set mobs into action.

  7. Interesting post Kevin. I often think about what would have happened if modern day technology were available back then. Imagine the tweets, posts, videos etc. that would have come out. I also think about how lucky we are to have the information that we do based upon what was available back then. How lucky we are that they managed to acquire and publish the vast amount of historic reference back then in such a simplistic manner.

    – Michael Aubrecht

    • As historian how can we not appreciate the level of access into Trump’s thinking through his tweets. How many times have we come up against a wall of silence when it comes to access to public leaders. I am not for a minute suggesting that Trump is utilizing social media in the most effective and appropriate way, but that he embraced it so completely raises a number of interesting questions.

  8. A couple of quick thoughts:

    1. I agree with the thrust of your post, i.e. the real time connection with a President.
    2. Trump’s tweet was silly. And meaningless. He can’t do either thing he espoused.
    3. I find the Supreme Court’s perspective (as noted by several) interesting but not all that important in the big picture. The Court once ruled that blacks had no rights whatsoever, and also recently ruled that the 2nd Amendment actually means an individual can own and possess a firearm. So the Court can, and has, and could reverse its flag decision. If so, then someone might actually go to jail for burning the flag.
    4. Don’t think for a moment that Trump doesn’t know exactly what is doing with his myriad of tweets. He is a master at getting people talking, and reacting.
    5. The country will endure. We have been through far worse. 🙂
    6. And maybe #5 is exactly what this has to do with the Civil War. We have previously been in a situation far more dangerous than Donald Trump as President.

  9. For the record I believe Hilary Clinton, as a Senator, also supported the movement to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning as well.

    I don’t agree with the practice since there are much more practical ways to make your voice heard and effect change than flag burning, but I do respect and recognize the right to do so as a freedom of expression.

  10. I decided to “age the data” a bit before I contributed to the conversation, as I needed to really think about my relationship with Twitter.

    Twitter can be an incredibly lonely, insignificant experience if you rank where I do — somewhere between anonymous and invisible. With just a handful of followers, one gets the eerie feeling that you are shouting in a vacuum when you DO feel strongly enough about something to actually “tweet”. Occasionally, one of the ‘big boys’ will ‘re-tweet’ a comment and the experience becomes more like Horton Hears a Who. The onslaught of ‘likes’ & replies is almost over whelming…..and gratifying. I am going to guess that when one has a million followers like Trump, the experience goes from gratifying to powerful — and this is where the game changes.

    With so many people ‘following’ someone such as Trump, the urge to transition from a mere form of communication to one of mass manipulation must always lurk in the foreground — depending on one’s personality. Whilst I would love to think that I am now privy to some insightful moment in the life of the president elect, I am more inclined to question motive at any given time or tweet. Suspicion clouds the whole experience, thus, I refrain from responding; however, I say this as one who lurks on the sidelines. If I had legions of followers, I might respond for the amusement or edification of my followers.

    Regarding the use of Twitter as a educational access to our next president, i would agree that it is a powerful tool, because no matter what the motivations are when one engages in a turn of phrase, he is still revealing something about himself. Students of all ages would be wise to observe at the very least.

  11. Kevin,

    I have thought about this post a lot. I agree that having access to our elected officials via new technology has great potential. Unfortunately, the potential for misuse of that same technology is equally great, as Trump is showing the nation in no uncertain terms.

    During the Republican primary, Trump, through one of his tweets, unleashed his cyber attack dogs on a nineteen year old woman who dared to challenge him. One Trump supporter responded with a threat to this woman that was so violent that that threat warrants investigation by law enforcement, in my opinion. I am not certain–and realize that you are not saying–that students should expose themselves to this type of potential danger. Some of Trump’s supporters are truly unhinged. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear to many that Trump, himself, is not mentally stable. Besides being a narcissist, he is paranoid and manipulative, and seems to enjoy wreaking havoc, then sitting back and watching the destruction. A cult of personality seems to be forming around him. He is a very dangerous man.

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