Twitter at long last has affixed fact-check links to a couple of tweets by President Donald Trump that include verifiably false details, in this case claims by the president that mail-in balloting leads to election fraud.
Note that Twitter didn’t remove the tweets, and hasn’t gone so far as to add fact-check links to the president’s baseless insinuations that MSNBC co-anchor Joe Scarborough might bear responsibility for a congressional aide’s long-ago natural death.
Trump’s response: Take out the flamethrower and scorch away.
Um, no, calling out bald-faced lies by a politician is not interfering with an election.
As slow and insufficient as Twitter’s response to Trump’s serial lies and grotesque insinuations has been, this moment spotlights just how Trump manipulates a moment to turn it into something it is not.
He’s tweeted spurious insinuations about MSNBC co-anchor Joe Scarborough and the long-ago death of an aide. He’s thrown out inane one-liners such as “OBAMAGATE MAKES WATERGATE LOOK LIKE SMALL POTATOES!” He’s spun lies about the spread of the coronavirus and his response to it, retweeted a cascade of conservative takes on events and his actions, posted free plugs for books and television segments that align with his world view, and attacked the media (he cheered announced staff cuts at the Atlantic; what kind of president cheers job losses?), Democrats and a smattering of fellow Republicans who have the temerity to oppose him.
He has also, most troublingly, tweeted his support for blatant attempts at intimidation by armed anti-government protesters who joined demonstrations in states whose Democratic governors froze many public interactions to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
This is how a thug acts. But it’s also how Trump works to deflect public attention from his historically inept presidency. He creates controversies, then turns them into us versus them fights to keep his base engaged and his critics outraged. In a divided country Trump makes the divide the issue, at the expense of the public well-being.
Trump’s attacks on the mail-in voting option as a way to conduct an election amid the coronavirus pandemic is an effort to undermine public faith in the November election. And his attack on Twitter for supposed censorship (pointing out a lie is not censorship in any accepted definition) is an attempt to distract the electorate from his initial lie.
Trump is preparing the ground to, once again, claim victimhood. If he loses in November, he’ll scream (well, tweet) “foul!” and “unfair!” and somehow draw in President Barack Obama and Jeff Bezos and his expanding cast of political critics real and imagined to argue that he is the target of some vast left-wing socialist lamestream media conspiracy and that we need to TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK NOW! (emphasis in the imagined original tweet).
This is standard procedure for Trump. Attack, debase and devalue in the hope that he emerges victorious from the verbal battlefield. Never mind the carnage. Never mind the truth. Never mind what’s best for the country.
Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist, author of six history books and Maine native , is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.