Just an hour into the historic and tragic burning of Notre Dame as cameras were drawn to watch the terrible spectacle unfold, US President Donald Trump tweeted.
From the moment of the tweet the focus of too many international media became “what did Trump say.” France24 had to sound out every commentator and reported on “what do you think of Trump’s suggestion.” Then began the typical cycle of mocking and reporting “reactions” to Trump’s tweet.
You’d think that the destruction of an 850 year old Cathedral in Paris, one of the most visited sites in Europe with 13 million people visiting a year, didn’t need to become a “Trump story.” But it does. Like everything else does. It is particularly strange that no matter what the issue is, if Trump has said something, then the issue becomes about Trump. Imagine if Trump had something to say about modern art, then we would all have to talk about modern art. Trump’s Twitter bullhorn is so large that if it commented on anything obscure, we would suddenly have to learn about it. That could be a good thing if Trump used his Twitter to spread educational tidbits, but he uses it to make often asinine comments about things.
Despite the fact that most commentators claim that Trump’s comments are only worth mocking, by repeating them and discussing them, they are given weight. It used to be just a fun game of Twitter users to try to appear first under a Trump tweet to get followers. But his Tweets have also led to more serious concerns, such that they could lead to international conflict. His tweets are constantly covered. Trump tweets and stocks can sink. Trump’s tweets have frayed US-Turkey relations. He said the US would withdraw from Syria on Twitter. He even fired one Secretary of State on Twitter.
However, while there are clearly meaningful and important tweets, there are also a lot that should be ignored. Yet, they are often not ignored. Trump isn’t an expert in firefighting, there is no evidence his tweet about Notre Dame needed to be discussed. Yet not only did it waste time on live shows while the Cathedral war burning, it also may have wasted the time of other politicians and experts who felt obliged to reply to it.
Why do we live in this era of the Trump distraction. It isn’t only because he is President of the United States. It is part of a Trump obsession, a kind of worldwide Trump reality show that we all have to live in. This isn’t good for anyone, whether one supports or doesn’t support Trump. If one supports him, there is no reason to suppose his tweet about how to fight a fire in Paris is helpful or needs to be seriously discussed. If one opposes him, then why take it seriously?
In previous eras the US President may have been powerful, but generally his comments on many issues were seen as an American problem, unless they directly impacted foreign policy. Why does it matter what Trump’s views on dietary habits are.
Does it matter what his views on immigrants and the Mueller report are? Perhaps more, to an American audience. But Trump’s tweets, unless they announce new policy, should generally not hijack every media channel. They should be ignored when they address things that the US President clearly has no real power over or knowledge of. Amplifying them on media doesn’t help.
The problem with Twitter in the hands of the President is that what might have once been a conversation int he White House or angry ramblings between the President and his advisors, has now become fodder for the national conversation, all the time. It is a diversion and a distraction and making everyone worse off for having had to discuss it.