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Twitter’s Ban on Trump Will Only Deepen the US Tribal Divide
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Anyone who believes locking President Donald Trump out of his social media accounts will serve as the first step on the path to healing the political divide in the United States is likely to be in for a bitter disappointment.

The flaws in this reasoning need to be peeled away, like the layers of an onion.

Twitter’s decision to permanently ban Trump for, among other things, “incitement of violence” effectively cuts him off from 88 million followers. Facebook has said it will deny Trump access to his account till at least the end of his presidential term.

The act of barring an elected president, even an outgoing one, from the digital equivalent of the public square is bound to be every bit as polarising as allowing him to continue tweeting.

These moves threaten to widen the tribal divide between the Democratic and Republican parties into a chasm, and open up a damaging rift among liberals and the left on the limits of political speech.

Claims of ‘stolen’ election

The proximate cause of Facebook and Twitter’s decision is his encouragement of a protest march on Washington DC last week by his supporters that rapidly turned violent as several thousand stormed the Capitol building, the seat of the US government.

Five people are reported to have died, including a police officer struck on the head with a fire extinguisher and a woman who was shot dead inside the building, apparently by a security guard.

The protesters – and much of the Republican party – believe that Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, “stole” November’s presidential election. The storming of the Capitol occurred on the day electoral college votes were being counted, marking the moment when Biden’s win became irreversible.

Since the November election, Trump has cultivated his supporters’ political grievances by implying in regular tweets that the election was “rigged”, that he supposedly won by a “landslide”, and that Biden is an illegitimate president.

The social networks’ immediate fear appears to be that, should he be allowed to continue, there could be a repetition of the turmoil at the Capitol when the inauguration – the formal transfer of power from Trump to Biden – takes place next week.

No simple solutions

Whatever we – or the tech giants who now dominate our lives – might hope, there are no simple solutions to the problems caused by extreme political speech.

To many, banning Trump from Twitter – his main megaphone – sounds like a proportionate response to his incitement and his narcissistic behaviour. It appears to accord with a much-cited restriction on free speech: no one should be allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

But that comparison serves only to blur important distinctions between ordinary speech and political speech.

The prohibition on shouting “Fire!” reflects a broad social consensus that giving voice to a falsehood of this kind – a lie that can be easily verified as such and one that has indisputably harmful outcomes – is a bad thing.

There is a clear way to calculate the benefits and losses of allowing this type of speech. It is certain to cause a stampede that risks injury and death – and at no gain, apart from possibly to the instigator’s ego.

It is also easy to determine how we should respond to someone who shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. They should be prosecuted according to the law.

Who gets to decide

Banning political speech, by contrast, is a more complicated affair because there is rarely consensus on the legitimacy of such censorship, and – as we shall see – any gains are likely to be outweighed by the losses.

Trump’s ban is just the latest instance in a growing wave of exclusions by Twitter and Facebook of users who espouse political views outside the mainstream, whether on the right or the left. In addition, the tech giants have been tinkering with their algorithms to make it harder to find such content – in what amounts to a kind of pre-censorship.

But the critical issue in a democracy is: who gets to decide if political speech is unreasonable when it falls short of breaching hate and incitement laws?

Few of us want state institutions – the permanent bureaucracy, or the intelligence and security services – wielding that kind of power over our ability to comment and converse. These institutions, which lie at the heart of government and need to be scrutinised as fully as possible, have a vested interest in silencing critics.

There are equally good grounds to object to giving ruling parties the power to censor, precisely because government officials from one side of the political aisle have a strong incentive to gag their opponents. Incitement and protection of public order are perfect pretexts for authoritarianism.

And leaving the democratic majority with the power to arbitrate over political speech has major drawbacks too. In a liberal democracy, the right to criticise the majority and their representatives is an essential freedom, one designed to curb the majority’s tyrranical impulses and ensure minorities are protected.

‘Terms of service’

In this case, however, the ones deciding which users get to speak and which are banned are the globe-spanning tech corporations, the wealthiest companies in human history.

Facebook and Twitter have justified banning Trump, and anyone else, on the grounds that he violated vague business “terms of service” – the small print on agreement forms we all sign before being allowed access to their platforms.

But barring users from the chief means of communication in a modern, digitised world cannot be defended simply on commercial or business grounds, especially when those firms have been allowed to develop their respective monopolies by our governments.

Social media is now at the heart of many people’s political lives. It is how we share and clarify political views, organise political actions, and more generally shape the information universe.

The fact that western societies have agreed to let private hands control what should be essential public utilities – turning them into vastly profitable industries – is a political decision in itself.

Political pressures

Unlike governments, which have to submit to intermittent elections, tech giants are accountable chiefly to their billionaire owners and shareholders – a tiny wealth elite whose interests are tied to greater wealth accumulation, not the public good.

But in addition to these economic imperatives, the tech companies are also increasingly subjected to direct and indirect political pressures.

Sometimes that occurs out in the open, when Facebook executives get hauled before congressional committees to explain their actions. And doubtless pressure is being exerted too out of sight, behind closed doors.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple all want their respective, highly profitable tech monopolies to continue, and currying favour with the party in power – or the one coming into power – is the best strategy for avoiding greater regulation.

ORDER IT NOW

Either way, it means that, in their role as gatekeepers to the global, digital public square, the tech giants exercise overtly political powers. They regulate an outsourced public utility, but are not subject to normal democratic oversight or accountability because their relationship with the state is veiled.

Censorship backfires

Banning Trump from social media, whatever the intention, will inevitably look like an act of political suppression to his supporters, to potential supporters and even to some critics who worry about the precedent being set.

In fact, to many it will smack of vengeful retaliation by the “elites”.

Consider these two issues. They may not seem relevant to some opponents but we can be sure they will fuel his supporters’ mounting sense of righteous indignation and grievance.

First, both the department of justice and the federal trade commission under Trump have opened anti-trust investigations of the major tech corporations to break up their monopolies. Last month the Trump administration initiated two anti-trust lawsuits – the first of their kind – specifically against Facebook.

Second, these tech giants have chosen to act against Trump now, just as Biden prepares to replace him in the White House. Silicon Valley was a generous funder of Biden’s election campaign and quickly won for itself positions in the incoming administration. The new president will decide whether to continue the anti-trust actions or drop them.

Whether these matters are connected or not, whether they are “fake news” or not, is beside the point. The decision by Facebook and Twitter to bar Trump from its platforms can easily be spun in his supporters’ minds as an opportunistic reprisal against Trump for his efforts to limit the excesses of these overweening tech empires.

This is a perfect illustration of why curbs on political speech – even of the most irresponsible kind – invariably backfire. Censorship of major politicians will always be contested and are likely to generate opposition and stoke resentment.

Banning Trump won’t end conspiracy theories on the American right. It will intensify them, reinforce them, embolden them.

Obnoxious symptom

So in the cost-beneft calculus, censoring Trump is almost certain to further polarise an already deeply divided American society, amplify genuine grievances and conspiracy theories alike, sow greater distrust towards political elites, further fracture an already broken political system and ultimately rationalise political violence.

The solution is not to crack down on political speech, even extreme and irresponsible speech, if it does not break the law. Trump is not the cause of US political woes, he is one obnoxious symptom.

The solution is to address the real causes, and tackle the only too justified resentments that fuelled Trump’s rise and will sustain him and the US right in defeat. Banning Trump – just like labelling his supporters “a basket of deplorables” – will prove entirely counter-productive.

Fixing a broken system

Meaningful reform will be no simple task. The US political system looks fundamentally broken – and has been for a long time.

It will require a much more transparent electoral system. Big donor money will have to be removed from Congressional and presidential races. Powerful lobbies will need to be ousted from Washington, where they now act as the primary authors of Congressional legislation promoting their own narrow interests.

The old and new media monopolies – the latter our new public square – will have to be broken up. New, publicly funded and publicly accountable media models must be developed that reflect a greater pluralism of views.

In these ways, the public can be encouraged to become more democratically engaged, active participants in their national and local politics rather than alienated onlookers or simple-minded cheerleaders. Politicians can be held truly accountable for their decisions, with an expectation that they serve the public interest, not the interests of the most powerful corporations.

The outcome of such reforms, as surveys of the American public’s preferences regularly show, would be much greater social and economic equality. Joblessness, home evictions and loss of medical cover would not stalk so many millions of Americans as they do now, during a pandemic. In this environment, the wider appeal of a demagogue like Trump would evaporate.

If this all sounds like pie-in-the-sky idealism, that in itself should serve as a wake-up call, highlighting just how far the US political system is from the liberal democracy it claims to be.

(Republished from Jonathan Cook by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. It is flat out fascism. They are following the same consolidation playbook the Nazis followed when they propagandistically used the burning of the Reichstag building under mysterious circumstances which did not rule out Nazi participation in the deed, to issue the Reichstagbrandverordnung (Reichstag fire decrees) which proscribed opposition to the Nazi regime. With the proposed edicts they are considering against “domestic terrorism”, this looks like the same template since the permanent regime is labelling all opponents “domestic terrorists.” Do they actually want a civil war before the opposition can adequately organize? That is what it looks like.

    The term “conspiracy theory” usually refers to views diverging from the official regime view of what has occurred whether or not it is based on conspiracy thinking. The other thing they are doing is attempting in effect a Bill of Attainder against Trump. In early modern England, when party rule changed, the new regimes often issued Bills of Attainder, sometimes demanding asset forfeiture or even the murder of opponents of the new regime. That is why the constitution barred such tactics in the original text before there was any amendment. Congressional representatives supporting such tactics are acting against their oath of office and should themselves be impeached, though with the majority and the climate of fear we know this is not going to happen.

  2. After 44 months in office,

    Last month the Trump administration initiated two anti-trust lawsuits – the first of their kind – specifically against Facebook.

    Why so long?

    Because, like the Obama administration’s promised prosecution of the financial firms who ended up “too big to jail,” Mr. Barr’s Russiagate indictments with the sticky seals, and even Mr. Cook’s “Fixing a broken system,” anything Red+Blue is kabuki to keep the sheep bleating their votes for more of the same.

    • Agree: Realist
  3. bravo, jonathan. well said. i shall try to encourage family & friends to consider reading this, as it is a rational road map. thank you.

    • LOL: Realist
  4. “The tech oligarchs’ post-2016 censorship riot is the single biggest factor driving destabilization of the US political system and a looming civil war. ” https://www.veteranstoday.com/2021/01/11/youtube-v-ffwn/

  5. Whatever wounds the establishment does to Trump they are doing to every American who supported him.

    Pain inflicted is only temporary. Next comes the terrible resolve of over 200 million angry citizens, young and old, who will not forgive or forget the infamy of the 2020 election steal.

    Any downturn in the economy, any price increase, any rise in unemployment will only darken the mood of the nation towards the illegitimate regime.

    Biden or Harris will not get any respect if they show themselves in public outside of their base. The only return to normalcy will be when the regime is deposed.

    • Replies: @Begemot
  6. The changes that would be required in order for a recognizable America to survive, cannot possibly be implemented in today’s world. We literally can’t get there from here.

  7. Governments regularly propagate violence through the media when they call for wars yet ban and imprison those who call for violent revolution against the governments. As has always been.

    And calling a segment of the population “a basket of deplorables” is no less hate speech than much of what else they ban.

    Simply put: hypocrisy. But that’s nothing new either.

  8. I suspect one reason why zealots on the left are determined to stamp out reading of the classics is to prevent people from being schooled in the understanding of human nature, which is timeless; it is much easier to repeat the atrocities of history if you deprive your victims any knowledge of how these things have rolled in other now extinct societies over and over again. This time will be different, right?

    Tanabear got me into a Thuycidides state of mind on another thread yesterday, which resulted in me digging up this passage on the Civil War on Corcyra.

    All this was caused by leadership based on greed and ambition and led in turn to fanaticism once men were committed to the power struggle. For the leading men in the cities, through their emphasis on an attractive slogan for each side—political equality for the masses, the moderation of aristocracy—treated as their prize the public interest to which they paid lip service and, competing by every means to get the better of one another, boldly committed atrocities and proceeded to still worse acts of revenge, stopping at limits set by neither justice nor the city’s interest but by the gratification of their parties at every stage, and whether by condemnations through unjust voting or by acquiring superiority in brute force, both sides were ready to satisfy to the utmost their immediate hopes of victory. And so neither side acted with piety, but those who managed to accomplish something hateful by using honorable arguments were more highly regarded. The citizens in the middle, either because they had not taken sides or because begrudged their survival, were destroyed by both factions.

    • Agree: Malla
    • Thanks: John Regan, res
    • Replies: @Malla
    , @Corvinus
  9. Of the many ‘tribes’ in America, there is one that the coup regime needs on its side: the ‘thin blue line’ tribe.

    Ginning up a conflict between law enforcement and the public is of vital importance to the election stealers. Without that conflict, the police and military are distrusted.

    The totalitarian dictatorships in East Germany and Romania were brought to an end when the police and military refused orders to kill their fathers and brothers. Instead, they sided with the people.

  10. GeeBee says:

    It will require a much more transparent electoral system

    Is Mr Cook disingenuous or merely naïve? When all candidates for high office are carefully preselected by the matrix of power whose insolence, intolerance, vindictiveness, spite, cunning, ruthlessness and sheer gall are now writ large upon the tapestry of Western governance, what does it matter which of them the duped and befuddled electorate votes for? The only ‘choice’ given to the voter is that of endorsing the matrix’s agenda by selecting its representative in either a blue or a red rosette.

    Of the many pithy condemnations of the scam of Western democracy, that of Ezra Pound is perhaps the most direct: ‘Democracy means rule by Jews’.

    Not until and unless people wake up to the fact that ‘democracy’ is no more and no less than a cruel trick played upon them, consigning them to eternal subjugation to, and guaranteeing perpetual rule by the (((matrix))) will anything change for the better. The naked power of the matrix, supported and implemented by the key components whose task it is to ‘manufacture consent’ for its agenda (namely the Media-Entertainment complex, the Education Establishment and the legal apparatus), has been starkly revealed throughout the dismal year of 2020, and never more so than in recent days.

    Anyone who continues to talk of solutions involving ‘democracy’ is either a traitor or a fool.

    • Replies: @Realist
  11. How come Google works with Israel that is stealing Palestinian land and using IDF death squads to mow down children and women?

    How come Twitter suppresses BDS but allows Zionists to spew their bile?

    How come Facebooks works with imperialist Israel(that supports terrorists in Syria) to censor Palestinian voices?

    How come no one calls out on Jews?

    The so-called American ‘tribal’ divide exists because Jews create the bogeyman of the ‘evil white supremacist’ to distract us from Jewish Supremacist Power.

    Make ‘good’ whites hate on ‘bad’ whites who are ‘racist’ when, in fact, both bunch of foolish whites support the supremacist policies of Jews in the US and abroad. Look how so many Jewish crooks go free. Look how Jews can make tons of money on Wall Street through crooked schemes. Look how not a single Jewish bankster went to jail for the 2008 meltdown. And look how 90% of US foreign policy is “is it great for Zion”?

    If Jewish Power were mentioned, the races and classes would come together to speak truth to Jewish Power. But becaues Jewish Power never goes mentioned, Jews manipulate the narrative as a case of ‘good’ whites vs ‘bad’ whites.

  12. TG says:

    “no one should be allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.”

    Even if there is a fire?

    • Replies: @Alfa158
    , @Drapetomaniac
  13. Begemot says:
    @Beavertales

    A sentiment for 2021:

    Biden or Harris will not get any respect if they show themselves in public outside of their base. The only return to normalcy will be when the regime is deposed.

    Now to put this sentiment into 2017:

    Trump or Pence will not get any respect if they show themselves in public outside of their base. The only return to normalcy will be when the regime is deposed.

    How alike the two sides have become.

  14. polistra says:

    Of course. Deepening divides is another way of saying “politics”.

  15. Realist says:

    Meaningful reform will be no simple task. The US political system looks fundamentally broken – and has been for a long time.

    It will require a much more transparent electoral system. Big donor money will have to be removed from Congressional and presidential races. Powerful lobbies will need to be ousted from Washington, where they now act as the primary authors of Congressional legislation promoting their own narrow interests.

    The old and new media monopolies – the latter our new public square – will have to be broken up. New, publicly funded and publicly accountable media models must be developed that reflect a greater pluralism of views.

    In these ways, the public can be encouraged to become more democratically engaged, active participants in their national and local politics rather than alienated onlookers or simple-minded cheerleaders. Politicians can be held truly accountable for their decisions, with an expectation that they serve the public interest, not the interests of the most powerful corporations.

    You’re kidding right??? The Deep State will never allow this…how the hell do you think we got where we are.? Obviously, voting doesn’t work

    • Agree: GeeBee
    • Replies: @Corvinus
  16. Realist says:
    @GeeBee

    Agreed…see my comment above.

  17. Malla says:
    @The Alarmist

    I suspect one reason why zealots on the left are determined to stamp out reading of the classics is to prevent people from being schooled in the understanding of human nature, which is timeless; it is much easier to repeat the atrocities of history if you deprive your victims any knowledge of how these things have rolled in other now extinct societies over and over again.

    Excellent comment. Now you understand why the leftard minions of the Satanic globalist elites want to remove everything that has to do with “Dead White Men”.
    They already do a good job of brainwashing us and controlling our perception of things, but now want to stamp out whatever red pills exist to make their Satanic matrix permeate all our thoughts, emotions and ideas permanently.

  18. Alfa158 says:
    @TG

    To these people the answer is yes. If you are burning a theater down to murder the people inside, you don’t want anyone to alert the victims.

  19. SOL says:

    The oligarchs will do what they think they need to do to maintain power, and they think this solution is better.

  20. @TG

    The shouting fire – free speech thing was BS from the beginning.

    It is a violation of the contract between the theater owner to provide and the ticket purchaser to receive a good.

  21. Antiwar7 says:

    Why assume that the powers that be want to heal the political divide?

    It’s much better to have the plebes at each others’ throats. It keeps them from targeting their real enemies, the extractive elites. Plus, the partisan bickering is even good for political fundraising.

  22. Corvinus says:
    @Realist

    You really talk a good game, but it always ends up that you lose. Either do something about it directly, or continue to weekly complain.

    But at least you have solace from Anonymous Conservative (snicker snack)…

    Trump will either be remembered for all of time as the greatest leader in all of history, who went on to save the greatest nation in the world, against all odds, from the worst traitors the world has ever seen. Or he will be remembered as a leader who went all the way up to the finish line, and yet through betrayal by aides or defeat by the enemy, heart-breakingly failed to make it over the finish line and allowed the greatest, freest nation in the world to fall, probably more spectacularly than any nation in history ever has.

    There is no way to overemphasize what we are watching. We still speak the names of Caesar and Brutus, and marvel at the fall of Rome today. Someday, it is entirely possible, likely even, that the events we are witnessing firsthand, will dwarf the story of Rome, and every other empire, in the history books. It is even possible, this story will mark the fall of an entity which was behind the fall of so many other empires before us, and yet was completely unknown until at this moment it was dragged into the light and slain by our God Emperor.

    I mean, seriously, putting your eggs in the Trump basket, what can possibly go wrong (rolling of eyes).

  23. Corvinus says:
    @The Alarmist

    “I suspect one reason why zealots on the left are determined to stamp out reading of the classics is to prevent people from being schooled in the understanding of human nature, which is timeless; it is much easier to repeat the atrocities of history if you deprive your victims any knowledge of how these things have rolled in other now extinct societies over and over again.”

    What specifically is this “understanding of human nature” that we white people are being “left out” from “learning”?

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