On Friday morning, Donald Trump responded to the protests that have cropped up in several cities since he won the presidential contest on Tuesday.
Sure, the president-elect reflexively dismissed the protests as small, but the response is otherwise the sort of graciousness that one expects of the person next in line to lead the country: We may disagree, but we respect each other's position. As his fourth tweet since winning the presidency and as his first tweet addressing the tensions that the election prompted, Trump's words suggest a possible shift in how he will now deal with his opponents.
The only problem is that his third tweet since winning the presidency suggested precisely the opposite.
Nine hours earlier, Trump tweeted this.
It's hard to reconcile those two statements.
The latter of the two above is the more important one. It was Trump's first-pass response to the anger in the streets at the base of Trump Tower. It was an example of what Trump's detractors feared they would see from him in the White House: an aggressive, misleading response to something that could be better handled with caution and empathy. How do we know it could be better handled in that way? Because in the light of the new day on Friday, Trump himself — or whoever is powering @realdonaldtrump at any given moment — tacitly acknowledged it could have been handled better by issuing the new tweet.
It's important to note that the earlier tweet was both factually inaccurate and bafflingly incendiary. There's this long-standing idea that Democrats pay people to protest, an idea reinforced this year by a heavily edited video from James O'Keefe in which individuals discuss sending agitators to Trump rallies. When Trump argued that Democrats were paying people to cause disturbances at his rallies, PolitiFact rejected the idea.
I observed the first Trump Tower protest on Wednesday evening as part of The Post's coverage. There were thousands of people crowding Fifth Avenue from 54th to 57th streets. Most were young people, heavily women and people of color. I can't say specifically that no one in the crowd was being paid to protest, but anyone making such an investment would have been wasting money. What brought them into the streets was alarm at Trump's stated positions on immigration and refugees, as well as his comments about sexually assaulting women. There are any number of reasons that tens of millions of people voted against Trump. If 1 percent of those people were so mad that he won that they'd take two hours to protest, that's a crowd of 600,000, protesting for free.
It's worth remembering that, in the wake of the 2012 election, Trump called for protests in the streets, since he was under the incorrect assumption that Mitt Romney lost the electoral college vote despite winning the popular vote. “The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “The loser [won]! We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!” Romney actually lost both votes; that split between winning the popular vote but losing the electoral one instead applies to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
(I would also add that hiring people to show up for a political event is a charge that was leveled at Trump himself after his campaign kickoff. A firm he'd worked with in the past solicited actors to show up and wear shirts in support of his candidacy for a flat $50 in compensation.)
Perhaps more alarming than dismissing the protests as manufactured outrage was Trump's transition of the blame onto the media. Trump has run from the outset as an antagonist to the media, blacklisting outlets (including The Post) and threatening both lawsuits and a loosening of libel laws to exact revenge for coverage he doesn't like. He successfully leveraged skepticism of the work of the media to sow doubt about the revelations that were made about his history and intentions.
Within the 140-character constraints of Twitter, it's not clear how he sees media “incitement” working, but, coupled with his hesitance to embrace the standard media pool that is meant to detail what the president is doing, it suggests that Trump will continue to leverage anti-media hostility while in the White House.
Trump's behavior over the course of the campaign has indicated a disinterest in the self-constraining norms that have been a feature of American politics for decades. If Trump continues to undermine past practice in ways that put the democracy at significant risk, the media plays an important role in holding him accountable. That Trump is apparently continuing to try to undermine the media makes that more difficult. If the public is asked to pick between siding with Trump or siding with the news media on an issue of historic import, whom will it pick?
Even setting all of that aside, it's stunningly petty for a person who was literally just elected president of the United States to call protests in several cities “unfair.” You're about to become the most powerful person in the world. That is not a position that engenders blanket acquiescence. It is no longer the time to opine on Twitter with every petty thought that comes to mind. Trump may not have changed, as that first tweet makes clear, but Trump's place within the world has. Someone close to him needs to recognize that.
Well, again, someone clearly did. That second tweet is so jarringly at odds with the first that it's clear that some ally impressed upon him the importance of refining his words.
I'm not in the habit of offering advice to presidents, but I will here. What the protesters in the streets worry about, Mr. Trump, is that you will be the president you told your supporters you would be, without moderation. Telling the protesters to go away and telling your base that the protesters are insincere will not resolve their concerns and frustration. Demonstrating that you appreciate those concerns as valid to whatever extent you can is an important first step.
So, at the very least, delete that contradictory first tweet? At the very least.