As political scientist Paul Musgrave wrote last week, President Donald Trump's use of Twitter is undermining his presidency. Musgrave urged Trump to drop Twitter. I'd like to make a different argument: Twitter should drop Trump.
Musgrave's argument was that Twitter just enables Trump's worst and least presidential traits—his impulsiveness, his belligerence, and, perhaps worst, his independence. That is, by popping off in a public manner whenever he feels like it, Trump undermines the collaboration and negotiation that are essential to executive policymaking. His tweets also have a tendency to undermine his own staff and appointees, as well as place strain on diplomatic ties. It makes it hard to know just who speaks for the White House.
All of this is true. And yes, Trump should stop tweeting. But there are a great many things he should do if he wants his presidency to be successful. He should appoint people to the hundreds of unfilled executive branch positions. He should engage in legislative discussions with Congress about what types of bills he would and wouldn't sign. He should acknowledge that foreign interference in a presidential election is deadly serious, even if it benefited him, and work to bring such interference to light and ensure it doesn't happen again. He should divest himself from his properties and remove his daughter and son-in-law from White House posts. The list goes on. And Trump has no doubt been told all these things many, many times. He's not going to do them.
So I would recommend that Twitter immediately suspend Trump's account. They should do so not only because it's in the public interest, but because he has violated many of their own rules.
Twitter's rules of usage cover three main areas: copyrights and trademarks, abusive behavior, and spam. Trump has undoubtedly and repeatedly violated several of their abusive behavior clauses.
It would be a dramatic and bold move, and one that could yield substantial benefits for both the company and the country.
One such rule is, "You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others." This is a Trump specialty. He has repeatedly threatened and insulted people on Twitter. He threatened James Comey shortly after firing him, and then baselessly accused him of perjury last week. He used Twitter to try to intimidate Sally Yates. He has dismissed members of Congress with belittling nicknames like "Cryin' Chuck Schumer" and "Pocahontas." He referred to Meghan McCain as "angry and obnoxious" and called Frank Luntz a "low class slob." And I haven't even mentioned how he referred to his primary and general election opponents in 2016. Quite simply, he has engaged in a great deal of Twitter misbehavior that has resulted in suspended accounts for others.
The Twitter rules do seem biased toward freedom of expression, but they note that an account may be suspended "if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others." It's a bit unclear how they define "primary purpose" here. But as political scientist Luke Perry notes, roughly half of Trump's tweets as a presidential candidate were attacks and insults. Just over one-third have been insults since he became president. This would seem to qualify.
Now, obviously, Twitter has strong financial incentive to keep Trump's account active. Trump just has to be good for business. And the company has a longstanding commitment to free expression that it surely doesn't want to undermine.
Yet as a communications medium, Twitter is in a fairly unique position historically. While radio and television were vitally important for Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, for example, they didn't owe their communications styles to just one company. Trump does. By shutting off the president's account, Twitter would flex a great deal of power over the presidency while making an important statement about online discourse. It would be a dramatic and bold move, and one that could yield substantial benefits for both the company and the country.