He may yet be impeached for a second time, an historical stain on an already tainted legacy, but the loss of his Twitter handle may be one of the most immediately consequential prices he’ll pay for his actions during these final two weeks of his presidency.
The company shut down the open window into the President’s thoughts and cut off his favorite form of communication.
It’ll be much harder for the attention-craving President to shove his way into public life if he can’t so easily broadcast his thoughts.
While Trump has complained about bias against conservatives in social media companies, Twitter has been the spigot from which he has spewed lies, fired Cabinet secretaries and aides, bullied opponents and stirred up his supporters.
Twitter has been the lifeblood of his communications strategy as President – and as President, the company has allowed Trump’s account to continue when any other might have long ago been turned off. Facebook and Instagram temporarily suspended his accounts on those platforms until after he leaves office.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s campaign account, @TeamTrump, saying in a statement that “using another account to try to evade a suspension is against our rules.”
The company is also limiting the official @POTUS and @WhiteHouse accounts during his remaining time in office. It’s not yet clear if he can start new accounts in the future.
But for a man who lived his presidential life as @realDonaldTrump, this must feel like losing an appendage.
George Conway, the anti-Trump activist and former Republican who made opposing and taunting the President on Twitter a cottage career, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the President’s humbling on the platform has real importance in curbing his power over the type of people who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.
“Taking him down by taking him off these platforms and not giving him, showing that he is powerless to do anything about it and then ultimately sending him back to Mar-a-Lago is going to diminishes appeal to these people who really seek some kind of authoritarian leader,” Conway said.
For Trump supporters addicted to his brash ALL CAPS, 280-characters-or-less missives, this could signal a move further to the fringes of the social media universe, like Parler, the upstart Twitter clone where conspiracy theories are welcome. Google told CNN Friday it would remove Parler from its app store. It’s not certain if it will remain quite the political force if they’re walled off from the rest of the social media world.
For Americans used to waking up to read about what after-hours outrage the President pushed on social media, it’s a strange moment of relief, elation and silence. All that remains of Trump’s Twitter page is a blank space and a message that the account has been suspended.
A long time coming
After a warning and 12-hour hold on Trump’s account earlier this week, the company announced its decision to permanently suspend @realDonaldTrump Friday, citing the “risk of the further incitement of violence.”
The decisive action by Twitter, a publicly traded company, came in contrast to the much slower official action of lawmakers, where Democrats moved toward impeach, but it was unclear if Washington would agree to definitively censure Trump and bar him from holding future office for sparking a mob to storm Capitol Hill.
Twitter referenced its “Glorification of Violence” policy in a long blog post assessment of his tweets it posted online Friday.
Rather than point to direct calls for violence, the company argued two relatively innocuous tweets, by Trump standards, had to be viewed in a larger context.
Trump tweeted: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
Twitter saw that as tacit approval for the mob that ransacked the Capitol.
Trump tweeted: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter saw that as further rejection of the election results and even, possibly, a transmission that the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden could be a “safe target” for more violent protest.
For many, the move comes too late to make up for years of the President spreading lies and conspiracy theories on the website, where he fine tuned and continually repeated lies as mantras – “FAKE NEWS” for the media, “WITCH HUNT” for his first impeachment, “STOP THE STEAL” for his opposition to his election loss.
Under pressure, Twitter had begun during the 2020 presidential campaign to label tweets with false information. But it shied away from actually suspending or hiding his tweets until he encouraged rioters this week.
And Trump has increasingly attacked the platforms that helped make him, even vetoing the annual defense authorization act because Congress would not immediately take away some liability protections enjoyed by the tech companies against content, like his, published on their sites. Congress came together to override veto.
It’s not clear they’ll come together this week to censure Trump.
To re-impeach or not to re-impeach
That’s the key question Democrats are facing as they prepare to take control of the US government in less than two weeks. Once that happens, they will own responsibility for cleaning up the many crises Trump is leaving behind.
Trump has already said he’ll skip the inauguration. It’s not clear what he plans to do between now and then. But the flight of key Cabinet secretaries from his administration, the semi-chastened video in which he admitted defeat, and the silence of Vice President Mike Pence pretty much put a cork in Thursday’s talk of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.
That means if there is to be swift accountability for Trump, it will have to be through impeachment, the Constitution’s remedy for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – in case you’ve forgotten in the very long year that’s passed since Trump was first impeached.
In that first impeachment, over Trump’s abuse of power in trying to corner Ukraine into helping him smear Biden, almost all but one Republican – Mitt Romney – rallied around the President and saved him from a conviction and removal from office.
House Democrats have already drawn up a fresh single article for impeachment against Trump, this time for insurrection over his incitement of a mob to stop Congress from finalizing Biden’s win – though they also noted his phone call last weekend with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked to help “find” some votes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi clearly wants accountability. And she should, after the chamber she leads was attacked by Trump’s mob.
She doesn’t want him using the military, specifically the nuclear arsenal. Pelosi said Friday she talked to military leaders about what they’d do if Trump tried something rash. So she issued an ultimatum Friday: resign or face a new impeachment. Nobody expects Trump to resign. Democrats could vote with a simple majority to impeach him next week.
But a successful House impeachment of Trump still needs a vote in the Senate to remove Trump, and Republicans aren’t likely to hold a trial anytime soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated in a memo to senators Friday that the earliest the Senate could take up any articles would most likely be right after Trump’s term ends. Even if it happened earlier, Republicans would have to join onto the effort in order to remove Trump from office and bar him from holding office again.
At least one Republican, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, said he would consider convicting Trump because what the President did was “wicked.” That’s not exactly a firm commitment.
Biden, who will have to lead this country in less than two weeks, was asked during an appearance in Delaware about Pelosi’s move and, far from endorsing it, firmly sidestepped it and asserted other priorities.
“I’m focused on the virus, the vaccine and economic growth. What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” he said. “But I’m going to have to, and they’re going to have to, be ready to hit the ground running, because when Kamala and I are sworn in, we’ll be introducing immediately significant pieces of legislation to deal with the virus, deal with the economy, and deal with economic growth. So we’re going to do our job, and the Congress can decide how to proceed with theirs.”
There are other emergencies
He’s got a point. There’s a lot more than Trump’s assault on democracy going on.
- More than 4,000 American Covid deaths were reported Thursday. Take every student from the two largest high schools you can find. That’s how many deaths were reported.
- 368,000 Americans and counting have died.
- Biden will immediately release vaccine doses to reach more of the population.
- The US shed more than 140,000 jobs in December. All of them were held by women.
Biden needs Republican help to get anything done this year. Passing any kind of major legislation – on the virus or the economy – will require at least ten Republicans in the Senate, unless Democrats find both the will and the votes to end the filibuster.
One indication of where Biden’s heart lies was visible in how he referred to key Republicans that broke with Trump.
He’s “proud” of McConnell, who squashed Trump’s effort to overturn the Electoral College vote.
He has “enormous respect” for Romney, who called out the Republicans who supported Trump’s effort and should be ashamed of themselves.
“This isn’t about Republican/Democrat anymore, this is about people who understand what this country is about and the things we have to agree on and move together on,” Biden said.