One of the benefits of Donald Trump’s banishment from social media is that he no longer gets to live rent-free in our heads any more. Without a platform to rant from, Trump can’t hijack the news cycle and make it all about him. He’s suffered the greatest blow to his ego possible: enforced silence.
Some of Trump’s diminishment was inevitable. After all, he’s no longer president, which means the media doesn’t hang on his every word. Losers don’t get the same attention as the winners. Even without being kicked off Twitter, Trump wouldn’t wield the same clout.
But Trump lost his direct line to 88 million Twitter followers. For someone who had no intention of quietly sliding away as most ex-presidents do, that had to hurt. Recent photos of Trump shows just how much power he’s lost; he resembles the greeter at a golf course instead of the former leader of the free world.
Yet, as delightful as it is not to have the threat of Trump’s tweet missiles raining on us, there are significant downsides to his exile. Three, in particular, stand out.
The first is that the silence can lead people to think that Trump no longer matters. This is a big mistake. Trump may be out of office, but the dark forces he’s unleashed will be with us for a long time. Nativism, white supremacy, autocracy – they’re are all hallmarks of Trumpism, and don’t go away just because there are no daily tweets to remind us.
The second is that Trump is still controlling–and driving divisions within–the Republican party, but now it’s behind the scenes. The ex-president has a PAC with $85 million in funds – about the same as the official GOP PAC. He’s raging war against his enemies, but from events at Mar-a-Lago. (At one such recent event, he called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “a dumb son of a bitch.”)
More telling are the GOP candidates who trek to Palm Beach to seek Trump’s blessing. Mar-a-Lago has become the site of regular fundraising events, in an obvious attempt to curry favor with Trump in the way he best understands: revenue.
“Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach are the center of the Republican universe right now,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller told the Washington Post. “All Republican roads lead to Mar-a-Lago.”
That means that the policies that Trump endorses become the party policies. For example, you don’t need Twitter to know that Trump is viciously anti-trans. Just in case you need a reminder, Trump gave a speech in February in which he repeatedly attacked transgender athletes as “biological males” who will “destroy women’s sports.” In essence, Trump gave his blessing to the rash of anti-trans measures in state legislatures.
Finally, the third downside to Trump’s social media freeze is perhaps the most pernicious. It allows the GOP to rewrite history, particularly when it comes to Trump’s role in the deadly January 6 Capitol insurrection.
The advantage of Trump having a public platform was that he was perfectly transparent about his motives and beliefs. Among them: the election was stolen, the insurrectionists were acting on his behalf (or alternately, were left-wing plants), and nothing he did was wrong, let alone impeachable.
For a brief moment after the January riot, even Trump’s ardent supporters tried to distance themselves from him. For example, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who had always gone out of her way to stay on Trump’s good side, said in January, “His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”
That was then.
Now Haley is helping Trump whitewash his role in encouraging an attack on the seat of democracy. Instead of holding him accountable, Haley said she would defer her own presidential plans and support Trump if he ran again in 2024.
It’s easy to make that kind of cynical calculation when you don’t have Trump in your face daily reminding the world how he incited the January 6 violence. His silence makes it a lot easier for Republicans to paper over one of the darkest days in the nation’s history.
None of this is to argue that Trump should get his social media accounts back. With Trump off the platforms, his followers can’t hang on his every word and take matters into their own hands.
Trump’s lies can’t be pumped directly into his followers’ bloodstreams. In light of the insurrection, that’s a critical safeguard.
But let’s not pretend that in Trump’s case silence is totally golden. All the bad that Trump has done continues, just behind the scenes. Even as we’re grateful for the peace and quiet, there’s plenty of reason to still be anxious.