Editor’s Note: Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger from Illinois. She covers disability rights and women’s issues and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping and Glamour, among others. Read her blog, So About What I Said, and follow her on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion on CNN.
In the nearly three years that Donald Trump has been in the White House, his outbursts have become all too predictable. Nowhere is this more evident than on Twitter, the space where he appears to feel most comfortable being outrageous and hateful. After tweeting racist attacks Saturday characterizing the city of Baltimore and the district of Rep. Elijah Cummings as “infested” with rats and crime, Trump the following Friday seemed to make fun of Cummings’ house reportedly being burglarized.
Some say that Trump should be banned from Twitter, and I wholeheartedly agree. But, sadly, that is unlikely, especially since Twitter views Trump differently than its millions of “regular” users.”Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter stated in a blog post last year.
But here’s the thing: We don’t have to read him. We don’t have to endlessly scroll to see the latest disgusting and dangerous rhetoric he’s spewing on any given day.
Imagine if we all unfollowed Trump on Twitter. What would happen? That’s the call to action coming from Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. His July 28 tweet reads as a very powerful “a-Ha!” moment.
Indeed, Murphy’s suggestion is something I wish I’d thought of sooner. Although I never technically followed Trump, I don’t remember the last time I went more than one day without checking his feed.
I’ve written extensively about my own experience on the receiving end of hateful vitriol on Twitter, so I feel for the many people Trump has bullied over the years. It’s exhausting and wears you down to see tweet after attacking tweet. And still, I’ve found myself deep in that endless scrolling. What was he doing? What was he saying? Who was he bullying now? I looked at his Twitter not because I wanted to stay on top of current events necessarily; I just couldn’t put my phone down, in the same way that you can’t stop watching really bad reality TV for its shock value: “OMG, did he really just tweet that?” Sigh of disbelief.
But there comes a point when this kind of “reality TV” is too real, too toxic – where that endless scrolling actually becomes bad for your health.
So when I went out of town last week, I vowed that I would refrain from reading Trump’s tweets. All week. A whole seven days. I did it, and it was a sort of blissful existence I never imagined possible – a level of calm that I haven’t felt since before November 2016. It was wonderful.
When I posted about my experience on social media, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t alone. So many are feeling the exact same way. Some said they unfollowed Trump in the name of self-care, while others went one step further and actually blocked him.
I won’t lie: I’ve wrestled with a certain amount of guilt at the thought of cutting myself off completely from his missives. Is it irresponsible of me as an engaged citizen to ignore the President’s statements to the public, the media or other world leaders on social media? Is it wrong to just ignore something we don’t like, as if not acknowledging it will make it go away?
I’m not sure I fully know where that line is yet, but I do know one thing for sure: Not reading Donald Trump’s words on social media would be a powerful act of collective resistance. Millions of us could be sending the message that racism, homophobia, misogyny and ableism have no place in 2019. Not in our communities. Not in our government. And not in our social media feeds.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar of authoritarianism, has written about Trump’s Twitter behavior since 2015 and how it’s an enormous part of his political identity as a strongman. And as she correctly predicted in 2016, his vitriolic tweets weren’t likely to stop any time soon. We need to be realistic, she wrote: “It’s time to drop any illusions that Trump will ‘pivot’ to any semblance of conventional leadership behavior. He has trafficked in violent language since the inception of his campaign. … Nor should we expect Trump to stop his Tweet-attacks. Those unscripted and vindictive feeling-of-the-moment communications were crucial to his victory.”
Trump’s words on Twitter are dangerous, and we can’t categorize his tweets as anything less than manipulative and a diversion tactic. We know those tweets are going to be there, whether we see them or not.
What Trump craves is for Twitter to be his stage and for people who hang on his every word. He wants an audience. Let’s not give him one.