Donald Trump is really worried about ISIS using the Internet. He's so concerned about ISIS's online recruitment efforts, he's willing to close parts of the Internet to thwart it.
Let's go to Tuesday night's GOP debate transcript:
Wolf Blitzer: Mr. Trump, you recently suggested "closing that Internet up," those were your words, as a way to stop ISIS from recruiting online. Are you referring to closing down actual portions of the Internet? Some say that would put the U.S. in line with China and North Korea.
Donald Trump: ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet — and it was our idea. What I wanted to do is I wanted to get our brilliant people from Silicon Valley and other places and figure out a way that ISIS cannot do what they’re doing. … I don’t want them using our Internet to take our young, impressionable youth … But we should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds to figure a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet. And then on second, we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. And we can do that if we use our good people.
Blitzer: Let me follow up, Mr. Trump. So, are you open to closing parts of the Internet?
Trump: I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes, sir, I am.
That exchange touched off a string of critiques against Trump on — you guessed it — the Internet, basically to the effect of:
Debate-watchers on Twitter started sharing variations on the "Lord of the Rings" meme above; I'm having difficulty now retrieving some of those tweets, so I've duplicated it here. The general thrust was to point out the absurdity of trying to shut down a network of networks, or attempting to disconnect Web sites whose operator may be located in a completely different country and living under different laws.
Trump clearly has some learning to do on how the Internet works. And he's hardly alone: GOP lawmakers have recently suggested censoring the Internet to fight terrorism, and for years other members of Congress have floated the idea of an Internet killswitch. But mocking public figures for their ignorance is the easy part. Explaining why that ignorance endangers society is just as important.
Beyond all the technical reasons why shutting down the Internet would be rather difficult, Trump's remarks reflect an overwhelming sense that the Internet is somehow America's property, that it is "ours" because, you know, "it was our idea."
"I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet," Trump said. Even if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume he simply meant "the parts of the Internet that Americans happen to frequent," the notion that those parts of the Web belong to the United States leads to a more favorable view of decidedly controversial policies, such as that the government can or should have unrestricted access to your digital data.
If Trump meant something more — that the Internet is a magical gift America bestowed on the rest of the world that can be taken away at will — it speaks to a worldview that attributes vast, imaginary powers to the Oval Office. And leadership is as much about understanding boundaries as it is about breaking them.