Twitter is a cesspool.
That’s pretty much the column right there, and you probably already knew that, dear reader, whether you’re Republican, Democrat or anything else.
But if you require or desire further information, read on.
Trending this week is Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (again), although to center the story on her exclusively misses the full picture. It started when everyone’s favorite Georgian political pincushion attempted to block the Equality Act, which would, among other things, extend protections against discrimination for sexual minorities, including transgender people.
Progressive Illinois Rep. Marie Newman, a fellow freshman and one of the newest members of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “squad,” decided to retaliate against her office neighbor by displaying the blue, pink and white transgender flag outside her office so that Greene “can look at it every time she opens her door.”
Of course, Newman also had to film herself doing so, wiping her hands with a satisfied look on her face and captioning the video with a winky face — because obviously, scoring political points on Twitter is very important.
Greene then responded in kind, mirroring almost to the second Newman’s video but instead putting up a sign reading “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. Trust the Science!” — so that Newman “can look at it every time she opens her door,” complete with yet another winky face and a smug wiping of her hands.
Great work, all around. Really important stuff for the country they’re doing here.
I won’t comment on the moral position of either of the two lawmakers — other than to give both of them the benefit of the doubt that their opposing views are rooted in personal conviction rather than inauthentic populism — because that’s not the point. The point is that both women were elected to legislate, to craft laws that do real, tangible good for their constituents and for the nation at large. Instead, they’re occupying their time with cheap political theater.
It’s not even fruitful to try to determine who “started it.” Although Newman struck first, singling out Greene for a not-uncommon parliamentary procedure that likely wasn’t intended as personal, Newman has a child who is transgender — so one could construe an interpretation of Greene’s attempt to block the bill as a personal attack.
Regardless, the comment section on both Twitter posts mostly swirled with praise and condemnation for one congresswoman or the other, including from verified actress/activist Patricia Arquette, unfortunately affirming the sad truth that what these lawmakers posted was indeed politically advantageous.
But there were a few comments that touched on the higher truth, about the abdication of so many members of Congress to focus on doing their jobs. One Twitter user saw the pettiness and mused about whether this was a “Mean Girls” sequel. Another pithily put it this way: “Congress has become performance art more so than legislating.”
And that brings us back to Twitter itself, as a platform.
Twitter’s limited character count has always demanded succinctness — but inevitably, it has also therefore encouraged (as one excellent yard sign has it) “simplistic platitudes, trite tautologies and semantically overloaded aphorisms” to score political points. Likely, such online stunts will also be used to fundraise for both congresswomen’s 2022 reelection campaigns.
Twitter, thus understood, is a platform unbefitting of an elected member of Congress, who we as a people should expect to have serious, nuanced discussions and debates with other members about complex policy. Again, I’ll give both congresswomen the benefit of the doubt and assume they are, as individuals, talented, respectful people who would otherwise be willing and able to engage in such conversations. But thanks to the corrosive nature of a politics so centered on social media, they find it more expedient to take cheap shots at each other — an approach antithetical to cooperative, tangible problem-solving (i.e., Congress’ job).
Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that Congress is declining because its members are ignoring institutional duty in favor of ambition as a guiding force for their actions. He writes that such “dereliction” derives from “a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.” Congressional Twitter is the perfect wrecking ball for this institution, for it serves as a facile distraction from the higher duty that could mold members toward thinking about, as Levin writes, “what behavior is and is not appropriate.”
It’s a rot for politicians of even the noblest intentions: If you play around in the muck long enough, don’t be surprised to become a creature of the swamp. (How’s that for a semantically overloaded aphorism?)
Thankfully, though, there are still members of Congress who want to engage in problem-solving and try to avoid such political theater. They’re out there, if we know where to look. A possible rule of thumb: Look at a representative’s feed. Perhaps the less they tweet, the more serious they are about delivering results.