For the first time in its short history, Twitter got political this week, adding a caveat to one of President Trump’s tweets. On a tweet about mail-in voting, the social media company added a fact-check alert. If users choose to click on it, the link re-routes to several media outlets, which disprove what he says within it about mail-in voting being mostly “fraudulent”. In a sphere that has only benefited Trump until now, this is seen as a major setback for the president — and a major victory for the truth.
The president, of course, did not look favorably on this brand of fact-check. Lashing out today, he wrote — ironically, on Twitter — that “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives’ voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.” (It’s unlikely that the president has the power to do this to private businesses, to be clear, and it’s also untrue that social media platforms silence conservative voices. Twitter is the ultimate proof of this fact, and I hope it fact-checks this claim as stringently as it did the one he made about mail-in voting).
What’s interesting about all this is that by lashing out at Twitter for fact-checking, Trump is, in essence, making it clear that what he has said has always been invention, and never the truth. His anger at transparency is, in a way, the most transparent that he has ever been with the American people. What the president wants, he wants us to know, is the license to make up his own reality; carte blanche to behave as he wishes. The presidency is, to him, freedom from convention, and that freedom starts with the convention of telling the truth.
Many media outlets have attempted to catalogue the president’s lies. Reporters have asked him point-blank on a number of occasions to explain inconsistencies, and have weathered his abuse in press conferences for doing so. The Washington Post and The New York Times, among others, have compiled exhaustive lists of Trump’s untruths, which range from menial to felonious. In the court of public opinion, many of these lies have not mattered, because his tried-and-true believers have been motivated by the force of his rhetoric, and the force of his rhetoric has always been most effective in two particular arenas: in rallies, and on Twitter. The former is now an extinct breed of campaigning, owing to the current state of affairs (and Trump is railing against that personal problem of his, too, pushing back at North Carolina earlier this week and saying that he would pull the Republican National Convention from the state should they fail to fill the seats for him). The latter, then, is left to do the president’s bidding when it comes to propagating his sense of self.
Trump’s problem, though, is that he has no campaign without his lies. His entire presidency is built on a foundation of nothing. If Twitter fact-checks Trump, and his followers start to understand that his rhetoric is not substantive, the façade crumbles. And so Trump is being honest when he shows his cards to us today. He fears fact-checking because it exposes the things he fears most: his lies are not mistakes, or the misinformation of a stupid man. They are the calculated bids of someone who wants to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. This is what he has been doing all along. The only truth revealed by Trump is that he knows that facts will bring him down. Facts are anathema to his house of cards.
Twitter, it should be said, could have done this many moons ago. Why it took nearly four years (or six, if we’re counting the lies propagated during the last presidential campaign) to hold power to account will burn a hole in the hearts of many Americans for years to come. We can be hopeful, of course, that this one moment — this exposure of Trump and his accidental transparency — will snowball into a greater moment of awareness on the part of the American people. He was always lying to us, after all. Only now is he finally telling the truth.
Take him at his word. The president does not want the truth to happen. He said it himself. Today, we should believe him.