Wednesday, May 11, 2022


The leak of the Supreme Court's draft abortion opinion had one undeniably positive effect on our public discourse: It got us to stop whining about Elon Musk for a few days. But that ended yesterday:
Elon Musk said he would reverse Twitter’s ban on former president Donald Trump, articulating for the first time his stance on one of the most consequential decisions before him at the social media site he is acquiring.

“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake,” Musk said at an event Tuesday hosted by the Financial Times. “It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”

The ban, he added, “was a morally bad decision, to be clear, and foolish in the extreme.” Twitter had banned Trump’s account shortly after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, citing the “risk of further incitement of violence.”
Fine. Bring him back. I don't want him there, but I don't see much benefit from his absence.

Trump's banishment from Twitter (and, obviously, from the presidency) hasn't diminished the appeal of his style of politics. If anything, it's cleared the field for other demagogues -- Ron DeSantis, Tucker Carlson, even Samuel Alito. The demand for far-right divisiveness hasn't decreased simply because Trump has been deprived of the opportunity to supply it via certain channels. Millions of Americans wanted what Trump gave them long before he became a steady supplier -- they got it from the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh -- and they still want it. In that way, nothing's changed since January 2021.

And Trump's popularity hasn't diminished, either -- in fact, his favorability has increased since the Twitter ban. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump's favorable/unfavorable numbers were 38.8%/56.8% on February 1, 2021, shortly after he left office and was removed from social media. Now they're 44.2%/51.8% -- if anything, slightly better than they were when he won the Electoral College in 2016 and when he nearly won it in 2020. Real Clear Politics still shows him leading Joe Biden in a head-to-head matchup in 2024.

Trump was banned from Twitter for inciting violence on January 6. For that, Trump should have faced consequences much worse than losing access to social media -- if he wasn't found criminally liable, he should at least have been prevented from ever running for office again. But we tried to exclude him from electoral politics in his second impeachment and we failed. Republicans concluded (correctly) that they'd suffer more at the polls if they condemned him than if they defended him.

We're a democracy, which means that if nearly half the country embraces someone as toxic as Trump, or embraces Trump substitutes, then our real problem is the public. At least forty percent of America embraces Trump and wants him to be president again. Much of the rest of the country has decided that it's not a national emergency to have Trump or other January 6 participants in public life -- it's not just that Marjorie Taylor Greene will probably win reelection easily, it's that swing voters nationwide seem inclined to reward the GOP in 2022 despite its embrace of Trump, Greene, and other insurrectionists.

So sure, Elon, bring Trump back to Twitter. We need to confront this problem head-on. Driving Trump from social media was just sweeping it under the rug.

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