The love of speed, the popularity of instantaneous social media posts, and the need to feed a 24/7 media demand for election news has changed politics forever. Emotion has trumped due diligence and decorum. Critical discussion about issues has taken a back seat to a public enthralled or enraged by the latest attack or insult. Whatever the response to the latest tweet, the Twitter world erupts with messages that can’t be taken back.
It used to be that it took time to write or type out a letter to the editor. That time was an ally of clarity and civility. The heat of one’s emotion is gradually dissipated in the process of composing, typing, addressing, and sending a letter. A manager dictating an irate letter to a poor-performing supplier would benefit from a secretary who might ask, “Do you think ‘Bug Brain’ is the right opening salutation?” Thankfully, they’d have time to respond to their better angels and adjust copy before sending.
Our world today is built for immediacy. When you have only 140 characters and grammar is unnecessary, emotion reigns! By adding targeted hashtags to your tweets you can rally your like-minded friends or rile up your political adversaries. Hashtags were designed as a community-driven convention that have morphed into a political weapon. By adding a media or talk show hashtag, you just may get your provocative message read on air. Headlines, positive or negative, get exposure and feed the faithful and enrage their adversaries.
If you want to start a political wildfire, the match is only a tweet away. No one is better at starting political fires than Donald Trump. He doesn’t need your money; he’s self-funded. He doesn’t need your opinions; he is the wisest, greatest deal maker in history. He doesn’t need campaign advice; he’ll make his own tweets because he knows how to win, win, win.
When Our Principles, an anti-Trump PAC founded by a former Mitt Romney campaign adviser, ran an ad in primary states showing a provocative, decade-old magazine photo of Melania Trump under the heading, “Meet Melania Trump Your Next First Lady,” Trump wrongly attributed the ad to the Cruz campaign. Trump immediately took to Twitter to warn: “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”
Cruz denounced the tasteless ad and claimed to have no knowledge or involvement. Not willing to accept his disavowal, Trump took to the Twitterverse to make good on his threat. Trump retweeted side-by-side images of a grimacing Heidi Cruz and a glamorous photo of his wife, Melania. The caption read, “No need to spill the beans. The images are worth a thousand words.” This is campaigning at its basest level—My wife is prettier than your wife. What’s next? My kids are smarter than your kids!
Campaigning in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz let reporters deliver his response, “Leave Heidi the hell alone.” One cannot blame Cruz for defending his wife. Who would not do the same?
Campaigns based on insults do no serve our country nor do justice to the critical issues facing America. Trump has refused to participate in more debates. He claims there have been enough, but could it be that now that there are only three candidates, he just might have to face more tough questions about where he stands on substantive issues. Cruz and Kasich are ready and willing. Demand fewer insults and more issue-related debates.
As citizens, we don’t control our candidates or the media’s coverage and questions. The only person we control is ourselves, and even that is in question on bad days. We control our votes and how we express ourselves to influence the votes of others.
It’s time for a renewed commitment to civility and dialogue over insults and isolation. The right to disagree comes from the liberty that sustains our republic. But you can disagree without being quite so disagreeable.
Donald Trump and all of us might take to heart the words of Thomas Jefferson before adding posts to the Twitterverse, “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” May it be so.