How did we end up with a ‘commander in tweet’?
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In less than 50 days, the nuclear launch codes pass to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE — a scary proposition for anyone who follows him on Twitter.

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Potential nuclear holocaust aside, in the past two weeks, we have seen a president-elect, in 140 characters or less, take drastic and simplistic positions on serious issues of foreign policy and constitutional law. Donald Trump’s stream of consciousness swirled with political statements has been the center of endless controversy.

 

In the aggregate, they are nonsensical. Tweet by tweet, they are disturbing.

The media’s response to Trump’s tweets has been a different story. The New York Times recently ran an editorial contending that the tweets weren't necessarily news per se but could inform debate to some extent. In the same week, The Washington Post published an article advocating that the media cannot and should not ignore his tweets in their reporting.

While knowing Trump’s stances on issues is important, often news stories and opinion articles lack the right focus and, in fact, drive public discourse further into the ridiculous. By magnifying insanity, the media has allowed Twitter to be a proxy for press releases.

This unorthodox politician has stumped a media accustomed to a traditional style of politicking. In just a week, Trump through Twitter, turned half the nation against Broadway, sparked a flag-burning debate, and incited a foreign policy debacle with one of our largest trading partners. With two to three sentences, the media races to print, and America is left to deal with the ensuing public debate fallout. 

We shouldn’t be surprised, though. Simple explanations are a way of life in American politics. Why did Trump win? White voters in the Midwest. Why are conservatives pro-life? Because they hate women, haven’t you heard? Why do liberals detest voter ID laws? Obviously because they want to vote a dozen times in Birmingham.

These oversimplifications mimic Trump’s tweets, ignoring depth and understanding for a cursory, snappy response and instant gratification.

It’s really not shocking, then, that political candidates seek to harness social media’s power if by a single post they can avoid nuanced debate. As a nation, we have been rewarding the simple — great economic plans, wholesale education reforms and complex foreign policies are reduced to a few well-placed buzzwords, talking points or focus-group-tested clips.

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The grand orations of Lincoln or FDR’s pleas for change have been tightened into 30-second sound bites played ad nauseam in whatever political social media circle you run in. Horror and disgust bounce around liberal echo chambers while conservatives cover their ears and chant about a lying media or corruption to anyone who will listen.

The country has been descending toward the simplistic and uncreative for quite some time. Joe Klein, a writer for Time magazine and author of “Politics Lost,” wrote about the growing sterilization of political discourse and a political conversation growing less courageous, sophisticated and earnest. One group he blames are political consultants, whose impact on the political environment Klein calls "perverse." He writes, "they have drained a good deal of life from our democracy … become specialists in caution, literal reactionaries."

Many blame Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE pundits for exactly this tactic: responding to a particular subset of Americana rather than the whole. That may be somewhat true, but it doesn’t account for just how little substance makes a candidate viable.

Blame doesn’t belong entirely with the media. While news outlets assert control over the content that we see, they are also reactive to what we want. They are, after all, businesses that live and die by viewer and readership, governed by clicks, likes and shares.

The cycle is well ingrained, and it goes something like this: Trump tweets — let's say, something about flag burning. The media reports the tweet. Thought-leaders, pundits and the like respond to the media's reporting. Trump responds to their response, a haphazard attack leveled at his critics. Then Trump tweets a new topic, and around we go again. All the while, the American people get no real understanding of Trump's stance on the issue in question.

In this race to the simple, we have nothing but the most basic of public discourse. We have rewarded the 30-second sound bite, the well-manicured press release, and now we’re left trying to decipher the riddled ramblings of a megalomaniac.

Brevity may be the soul of wit when you’re asking a question at the end of a long Monday afternoon meeting, but it should not sustain American political debates. Americans need more than a few sentences to overcome a divide that bleeds over hundreds of pages.

 

Tyler G. Grant is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a Fulbright Fellow in Taiwan. He majored in political science and Chinese at Washington and Lee University. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.