So, has Donald Trump gone too far this time?
Over the last four years, we have lost count of the number of times when the current White House resident has gone beyond the limits to which his presidency seemed doomed.
Up to now, he could have bounced back. But his response to the wave of anger stirred up by the death of George Floyd, the African American man choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer, suggests that this time we might have reached a tipping point.
By requesting that the army intervene against its people, and by publishing a call to violence on Twitter, Trump has caused an unprecedented shock wave.
His own defense secretary, Mark Esper, has just renounced him and refused to deploy the army against the protesters.
In the same vein, his predecessor, James Mattis, harshly condemned Trump, calling him “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try.”
A harsh criticism for a president who is still looking to prop himself up with military prestige. Other clues from inside the political machinery symbolize the deep unease at Trump’s hate speech. Police officers took a knee in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. A member of the National Guard told protesters that he “suffered with them.”* A sheriff joined the protesters’ march — those whom Trump treats as terrorists. All signs of a breach between a White House doubling down on its hostility and the influential sections of American society.
A further sign of this break is the tensions between President Trump and certain social networks, in particular Twitter.
The conflict exploded after a salvo of tweets in which the president insinuated TV host Joe Scarborough had played a part in the death of his former colleague Lori Klausutis. Twitter refused to remove the posts, but when Trump claimed that mail voting would leave the door open to fraud, the post was tagged with a warning to get the facts.
When the planet’s tweeter-in-chief reacted to the protests in the wake of Floyd’s death with the heavily threatening phrase, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the social network decided to hide the post as glorifying violence, therefore violating site rules.
And finally, last Thursday, a senior strategist at Twitter, Nick Pickles, made it clear that the company might go as far as closing the president’s account. Something unprecedented.
Snapchat addressed Trump directly by confirming that his posts would no longer be shown on its news feed. For the moment, Facebook is not moving, and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, continues to brandish freedom of speech to justify his inaction in the face of Trump’s hateful tirade.
But the argument does not cut the mustard with Zuckerberg’s own ranks and has caused a wave of rebellion internally.
Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are concerned with business, not politics. Rafael Jacob, a researcher and the Raoul-Dandurand chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of Quebec at Montreal, suggests that if Twitter reacted quicker than Facebook, it’s because its users are more progressive than its rival.
It is pressure from its users that pushed Twitter to confront Trump. Will pressure from its employees push Facebook to follow their example? Possibly not. But the horrible images of a police officer, hands in his pockets, with his knee on a man’s neck, have been deeply traumatic, and their significance, clearly, has escaped the American president. He might be paying the price for that incomprehension.
*Editor’s note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
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