Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Despot Has Been Muzzled... What Happens Now?

Jason O’Neal

It’s been four days since the fiasco at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and social media has flexed its muscle. Twitter, a microblogging platform with a global footprint and more than $10 billion in assets, announced Friday that it has permanently suspended the personal account of Donald Trump and has significantly throttled the official accounts of the President of the United States and the White House.

The move comes at the same time Facebook and Snapchat have banned postings from Trump until after Inauguration Day on January 20, but Twitter has long been his preferred litterbox of misinformation.

Since registering his @realDonaldTrump account with Twitter in 2009, he has made nearly 47,000 original tweets with close to 27,000 as President.  His Twitter feed saw a marked spike in usage during his campaign in 2016 when he sent out 7,800 tweets and he now has more than 77 million followers.  Of the half dozen accounts he has access to, his personal account remains the most popular with more than 1,000 “tags” every minute.  Tweetbinder estimates Trump’s personal Twitter account has a “market value” of $115,000 per tweet with an “engagement value” of slightly more than half a million dollars.  

Who the hell has that much time on their hands to monitor this cyber-spectacle?  

Apparently, not even Trump himself.

If the average person had to send out the equivalent number of tweets to mirror the actions of Trump’s days in office, they would need to send out 18 tweets every day.  One per hour for every hour awake.  Factor in that Trump “retweets” just as many times as posting original content and that number goes up to 36 tweets per day.  Of course, this is the average number of daily tweets and it is far less than his single-day record of more than 200 on June 5, 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests following the police execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Could you imagine sending a tweet every half hour to maintain an online presence in the hopes of remaining socially relevant?  You would have to do that every day for four consecutive years to keep pace with Trump.  Or, as in the case of June 5th, one tweet every five minutes for eighteen hours straight?  How can the “leader of the free world” have so much free time?  The answer is that he doesn’t.  But, he gets plenty of help.

Daniel Scavino, Jr. is the White House Deputy Chief of Staff and the Director of Social Media, a position which never existed in previous administrations.  Scavino held a similar position in Trump’s 2016 campaign and before that he was the general manager of one of Trump’s golf clubs.  Of the 27,000 tweets made by Trump during his time in the White House, Scavino’s fingerprints are on the bulk of them.  With a West Wing desk down the hall from the Oval Office, Scavino is the longest-tenured administration official and receives a salary of $175,000 a year.   Not bad for a sycophant with a communications degree. 

In previous administrations proclamations would be made with a certain fanfare of pomp and pageantry.  If it was important enough, maybe the message would be delivered during an evening address broadcast by every news network on television.  Less important updates would be funneled to the media via the White House Press Secretary.  That was the past, we now have unfiltered 280-character rants every half hour with CAPS-LOCK for emphasis.  These misinformation dumps are dropped on social media to sway public opinion and, more often since Trump lost the election, agitate his supporters. 

How did Scavino become such a trusted advisor to Trump?  They met on a golf course in 1990 where Scavino was once Trump’s caddy.  Three decades later, he pulls the strings on one of the most controversial celebrity social media accounts in the world.  Some may say the most influential.  His muse just happens to be the most powerful person in the world and he loves attention.  

Donald Trump has maintained an image of the ruthless real estate tycoon who mastered the art of the deal like no another, but that is all an illusion.  In truth he is a con man who inherited millions of dollars from a slumlord father and spent the better part of the 1970s and 80s swindling investors out of their money and refusing to pay contractors for services.  For someone having multiple bankruptcies associated with his business ventures how has he been able to keep this farce going?  Always a boisterous showman hungering for the spotlight he was helped by NBC and their reality television show “The Apprentice.”  For some odd reason Americans had a fascination with watching a spoiled and wealthy sexual predator scream YOU’RE FIRED! on television.  

When he entered the 2016 presidential campaign most folks wrote it off as another publicity stunt mimicking an episode of The Simpsons which originally aired in 2000. Oh, but truth is much stranger than fiction.  Trump had dabbled in politics before and was the chief architect behind the Barack Obama birth certificate conspiracy theory.  He had also ridden a wave of anti-Obama sentiment within the conservative base of the Republican Party.  Trump’s broad appeal trickled into new demographics for the GOP, but the Proud Boys and other alt-right groups liked him too.  Often his outlandish comments and behavior on the campaign trail was overlooked or excused by his supporters and dismissed by the media.  Besides, here was a billionaire promising to work hard for the American people and to “Make America Great Again.” He said he wouldn’t have time to play golf like Obama and his supporters lined up.  

Elevated to the status of “legitimate candidate” at the request of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Trump decimated his Republican rivals.  And there were nearly a dozen vying for the top spot. Seen as a godsend by the far-right because he wasn’t a real politician and could speak his mind, his soundbites were played non-stop on conservative radio waves and television channels.  Trump was a hot commodity.  Even as the bulwarks of big money capital refused to support him, his popularity continued to rise.  It didn’t matter what traditionally conservative newspapers and trusted politicians said, he was the peoples’ candidate against the Washington political machine.  As more established politicians, even former presidents, threw their weight behind Clinton, Trump was already inciting violence at campaign rallies.  His supporters were all too eager to please.  Trump gained more confidence and his remarks grew more insensitive and dangerous as his campaign jumped from the bizarre to the insane.  When the dust had settled on November 6, 2018 he was the President-Elect.  The majority of votes cast that night went to Hillary Clinton.  However, the ruling elite’s safety valve, the Electoral College votes, favored Trump.

In the beginning, mainstream conservative media outlets supported Trump and advocated on his behalf for help from the political establishment.  The ruling class never wanted Trump to be their representative in the White House.  He was not one of them, but they thought they could work with him and place enough insiders around him to control him.  One by one these cabinet members and senior level officials resigned.  Tea Party Republicans came to his aid and circled the wagons in defense.  Countless others, too.  When impeachment came along they all continued to march in lock step support to a Senate vote which split almost entirely along party lines. 

Behind the scenes, however, there was a growing influence evolving on social media platforms which began spreading misinformation in countless ways.  As Trump distanced himself from the corporate media, which propped up the capitalist state and its political sideshow, he jumped into the arms of fringe media outlets which held some rather extreme points of view.  Everything became a “conspiracy” and “fake news” and these claims were repeated by Trump’s social media office.  

Trump also continued to hold political rallies throughout his presidency.  These raucous circus-style venues allowed Trump to stoke the flames of ignorance and hate while merchandising at these events allowed supporters to buy hats, tee-shirts, bumper stickers and Trump 2020 flags.  As these rallies made stops across the U.S., armed bands of his supporters began mobilizing.  They threatened the lives of elected leaders when they were not counter-protesting the BLM movement and the COVID-19 lockdown.  In some instances, militias in tactical gear with firearms marched on state capitol buildings and conspired to kidnap politicians.  All the while Trump never denounced these groups as he portrayed BLM and Anti-Fascist protestors as violent mobs and domestic terrorists.

On the days leading up to the election, Trump doubled-down on something he said during the 2016 campaign.  He hinted at the possibility of not accepting the results of a “rigged election.”  This was the final straw for the ruling class which had tolerated this man for four years out of mutual benefit.  He cut taxes for them and towed the party line on fighting socialism and the radical left agenda as the law and order candidate, but he was now a danger to their game. On election night he repeated his claims of fraud during a press conference and most of the media, including Fox News, abandoned him.

By now it was too late.  Trump no longer needed them because he had a mainline to millions of supporters through social media.  Alt-right pundits on YouTube and other podcasters had remained loyal.  So did many elected officials in the Republican Party.  In one final gasp to remain in power, and with more than 120 supporters in Congress and the Senate, Trump encouraged protestors to march on the U.S. Capitol and demand they not certify the Electoral College votes being counted there. Trump’s personal attorney, former federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, even asked the crowd for “trial by combat.”  

The rest is history.

Trump’s political enemies in Washington, along with the capitalist media and corporate leaders, are pressuring him to resign.  These calls for his removal are not made by the ruling class from some position of benevolence to the many groups Trump has gone after in the past.  That was excusable to them.  His brand of politics, which they tolerated for four years, now threatens the government they control.  A week and half before Inauguration Day there is still talk of swiftly passing articles of impeachment.  Again.  Some elected officials are turning away, but many still stand with him.  Regardless of what the next several days have in store for us, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle.

As for now, Trump is contained.  He has no platform to shout from.  But, what about his millions of supporters?  They will see things quite differently than those pulling the strings of the capitalist state and its mass media.  They also still have access to their own social media accounts.  Where will they go?  Who will they get behind next? 

It is hard to predict what will happen to Trump after he leaves the White House.  Whether or not he returns to Twitter this does not matter.  If Facebook and Snapchat remove his muzzle he will go back to doing the same thing he has always done, but with a vengeance.  A less popular platform known as Parler was where many Trump supporters were headed.  Apple and Google (two of the wealthiest companies in the U.S.) just moved to shut Parler down because it refused to moderate content on its site.  Trump will find a way around this, too. 

He has mentioned before that he has “Trump News” for his followers and, with his growing popularity among those coming out of the shadows after hiding for so long, that may become a real thing.  If he does decide to launch his own media empire, I am sure it will need a minister of propaganda and David Scavino will probably still have a job.  

There is also the possibility that Trump will try to remain politically relevant to his supporters in hopes of another run in 2024.  Will he run as a Republican?  The recently pardoned former National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who was also banned from Twitter, told a crowd of supporters in Washington that the future of their movement might be outside of the Republican Party.  

Millions of faithful followers are still going to be voting in the years to come and they are not going away.  They have always been among us, but are now emboldened and motivated to make their presence known and they will find a leader.  If not Trump, someone new will come along.  If he or she is a more polished and charismatic character, they could capitalize on the new political precedent set on Wednesday.  The extreme right appears more than willing to be at the ready.     

One thing is certain.  Another section of society has risen up against the shadow democracy of the capitalist class and its government.  This time it just happens to be a group which has traditionally supported them.  Make no mistake, those in power will move swiftly to react and restore law and order.  Arrests and prosecutions are already afoot for many who took part in the mob riot of last Wednesday.

As the next looming financial crisis grows near, additional movements will begin to mobilize and look for a political voice or party.  This includes a more militant working class and the poor.  The unorganized will come together and organized labor must eventually break ties with the current union leadership and the Democratic Party.  The two party system has worked well to provide the illusion of democracy in the U.S., but it will not be able to contain the coming unrest like it has in the past.  One must remember that this particular form of government is not the only option available to the ruling class and they will resort to authoritarian rule in the form of a military dictatorship if they have to, but this is not their preferred method. 

Once these social movements gain momentum, as the working class rises to its feet, they will come into open conflict with the capitalist state.  It’s possible a future mass movement against the dictatorship of capital may be opposed by some of the groups who were present at the Capitol on Wednesday.  The months ahead hold the potential for mass protests and violence to spill over into the streets like never before seen in recent memory.  Americans will finally see firsthand as the bureaucracy and military are called to action to protect the interests and power of the ruling elite as it is confronted by its own subjects.  This will be the training ground for future revolutionary leaders.      

Welcome to the 21st Century of populist politics in the American Empire.   



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