May 12, 2022

Allowing Trump back on Twitter.

Plus, are Republicans really trying to ban IUDs?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Elon says he'll welcome Trump back on Twitter. Plus, are Republican really trying to ban IUDs?

Image: Gage Skidmore
Image: Gage Skidmore 

Tomorrow.

Last night, I finally sat down and watched Dinesh D'Souza's new movie 2,000 Mules. The new film purports to document how Democrats stole the 2020 election. It's an interesting movie, with a new angle on election fraud allegations, and tomorrow I am going to publish a subscribers-only piece breaking down what it got right and what it got wrong. As many of you know, my reporting on allegations of election fraud was some of the most shared during the 2020 election, so I felt a particular responsibility to write about this film.


Quick hits.

  1. Finland, a historically neutral country, is calling to join NATO "without delay" after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Finland and Russia share an 830-mile long border. Sweden is also planning to join the alliance. (The news)
  2. The Senate voted down a bill (49-51) that sought to codify a right to abortion into federal law, with all Democrats except Joe Manchin voting in favor and all Republicans voting against it. (The vote)
  3. Family members and survivors of the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse won a $997 million settlement that is now awaiting court approval. (The settlement)
  4. The governors of Virginia and Maryland asked the Justice Department to stop protesters from gathering at the homes of Supreme Court justices, saying it should enforce a federal law that prohibits demonstrations intended to sway judges on pending cases. (The request)
  5. Florida's Congressional map, championed by governor Ron DeSantis, was struck down by a DeSantis-appointed judge who said it discriminated against Black voters. The state is expected to appeal the ruling. (The map)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Trump and Twitter. I know we’ve covered Twitter a few times in the last month, so we'll give it a rest after this, but this story felt important: On Tuesday, Elon Musk said he would reverse Trump's Twitter ban if he takes over the company. Musk made the remarks at the Financial Times Future of the Car summit, and his remarks ended months-long speculation about how Musk would handle one of the most controversial moderation steps Twitter has taken in its history. He said his decision was founded in a belief about permanent bans, which he believes the company should use sparingly.

“Permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots, or scam, spam accounts… I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump,” Musk said. “I think that was a mistake, because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice... I don’t own Twitter yet. So this is not like a thing that will definitely happen, because what if I don’t own Twitter?”

Musk also noted that Trump has pledged not to return to Twitter, instead saying he was committed to Truth Social, a Twitter competitor he has tried to launch. Twitter CEO and former co-founder Jack Dorsey, who was in charge when the ban happened, said he supported Musk's decision.

Trump was permanently banned from Twitter shortly after the riots at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Twitter cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” and referenced two Trump tweets in a post about his ban:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

And a follow up:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

At the time, the company justified the ban by saying "these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks." It also noted that "the second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending."

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to Musk's plan from the left and right, then my take.


What the left is saying.

  • The left says allowing Trump back on is a mistake, though some question the efficacy of permanent bans.
  • Many call Trump a liar, and say he is not owed a bigger megaphone.
  • Others criticize Musk for being naive and inconsistent.

In CNN, Holly Thomas wrote about "the breathtaking cluelessness of Elon Musk."

"A self-avowed champion of 'free speech,' Musk said that the decision to suspend Trump was 'morally wrong' and that it 'didn't end Trump's voice. It will amplify it among the right.' Both of those assertions are incorrect," she wrote. "Banning Trump was the only conscionable response to January 6 -- and de-platforming is proven to quash provocateurs. But the fact that Musk is able to act on these ideas regardless speaks to an axiom that Trump himself exemplified: In today's America, one person with no conscience and access to the right pressure points can do almost anything they want. And as Trump's record shows, people who are prepared to misrepresent the truth as a means to -- or excuse for -- abusing their power once will almost certainly do so again.

"In November 2019, the New York Times investigated the 11,390 tweets he'd sent in his presidency to date," Thomas said. "Over half were attacks on other people, and they set the tone for his presidency. Trump ruptured US foreign policy, antagonized nations already at loggerheads and in fall 2017, tweeted that North Korea may not 'be around much longer!' -- which the country's foreign minister called a 'declaration of war.' When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump repeatedly referred to it as the 'China virus,' a label associated with a dramatic surge in anti-Asian racial hatred online. After he lost the US election, the lies he spread on Twitter were among his most popular posts ever, and stoked unprecedented violence."

In Wired, Gilad Edelman criticized Musk's rationale, but said he may be onto something about permanent bans.

"As usual, the precise logic of Musk’s reasoning is hard to follow," Edelman said. "He previously suggested that, under his ownership, Twitter would allow any content that doesn’t violate the law. But on Tuesday, he said that Twitter should still suppress tweets or temporarily suspend accounts 'if they say something that is illegal or otherwise just, you know, destructive to the world.' In case that was too precise, he added, 'If there are tweets that are wrong and bad, those should be either deleted or made invisible, and a suspension—a temporary suspension—is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.' If anything, deleting tweets that are 'wrong and bad' suggests a broader, more easily abused standard of content moderation than Twitter currently deploys. (Wrong and bad according to whom?)

"The most likely explanation for Musk’s conflicting statements is that he’s simply making this up as he goes and has not given any serious thought to how content rules should work on the social platform that he’s trying to spend $44 billion to buy," Edelman wrote. "And yet, buried in Musk’s free-speech word salad is a crouton of wisdom worth chewing on. Maybe Twitter really should rethink the use of permanent bans—not just for Trump, but for everyone... Cutting someone off from Twitter—or from other major social platforms—can seriously constrain their ability to participate in public debate. As the Supreme Court held in 2016, 'to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of Primer Amendment rights.' That was referring to an act of government, not a private enforcement decision. That distinction matters for legal purposes, but from the user perspective, the impact is the same regardless of who’s doing the banning."

Nicholas Goldberg said Elon Musk is the one who is "flat out stupid" about Trump and Twitter.

"Trump is a liar," Goldberg wrote. "Untruths, threats, fear-mongering and bullying are his weapons of choice; his enemies are mocked and belittled. The Washington Post counted 30,573 false or misleading claims during his four years in office, beginning with his misstatements about the size of his inauguration crowd. Not all Trump’s lies are necessarily dangerous. But many are. And perhaps none was more so than his final lie in office — his insistence that the 2020 election (which by all reputable accounts was unequivocally won by Joe Biden) was in fact rigged, mismanaged and stolen. That lie continues to pose an extraordinary threat to American democracy.

"Does that mean Trump ought to have no speech rights? No, of course not," Goldberg said. "He can speak and write as much as he wants, protected by the Constitution. But Twitter doesn’t owe him a megaphone. I don’t mean to suggest that this is an easy, open-and-shut issue. Anyone who believes in and cares about free speech and wants to see robust debate — even uncomfortable debate — about important issues has to think long and hard before coming out in favor of closing down opportunities for people to spread their messages. But I’m sorry. No private platform has an obligation to host Trump or others of his ilk."


What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right support allowing Trump back onto Twitter.
  • They argue Twitter's enforcement is inconsistent and Trump never should have been banned in the first place.
  • However, some wonder if Trump coming back to Twitter would actually hurt him and Republicans.

In The New York Post, Douglas Murray argued that permanently banning Trump was "ethically unsustainable."

"How can it be right that a few kids in Silicon Valley can silence the voice of a former President of the United States?" Murray asked. "Who are they to decide what you and I can and cannot hear, and who we can or cannot hear from? Twitter’s censorship started by taking out a few flamethrowers on the political right, and no one much bothered to stand up for them. But then the censorship came further and further inland, eventually muzzling America’s oldest newspaper and finally silencing the holder of the highest office in the land.

"And whatever you think of Trump, the hypocrisy stinks. Twitter still allows the Taliban to have accounts on Twitter," he wrote. "Numerous Islamist terrorist groups have kept using the platform. The government of Iran still spews out its propaganda on Twitter. And it is only very recently that Twitter seemed to have noticed that the Kremlin has been having a grand old time on their platform. How can the company justify ruling an American President beyond the pale while the Russian President is A-OK? In short, reinstate Trump, and make Twitter great again."

Ross Douthat rejected the notion Musk was a conservative, instead pegging his ideology as a "dynamist."

"A term like 'conservative' doesn’t fit the Tesla tycoon; even 'libertarian,' while closer to the mark, associates Musk with a lot of ideas that I don’t think he particularly cares about," Douthat wrote. "A better label comes from Virginia Postrel, in her 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies: Musk is what she calls a 'dynamist,' meaning someone whose primary commitments are to exploration and discovery, someone who believes that the best society is one that’s always inventing, transforming, doing something new... Liberalism in the Obama era was an essentially dynamist enterprise not because liberals were absolutely committed to capital-S Science but because those years encouraged a confidence that the major technological changes of the 21st century were making the world a more liberal place.

“Ever since Trump bent history’s arc his way, however, that confidence has diminished or collapsed,” he said. “Now liberals increasingly regard the internet as the zone of monsters and misinformation, awash in illiberalism, easily manipulated by demagogues, a breeding ground for insurrectionists. And if digital technology has become particularly suspect, via the transitive property so has the larger idea of innovating your way out of social or environmental problems — empowering the part of the environmental movement that wants to tame capitalism to save the planet, for instance, at the expense of the part that imagines taming climate change with fleets of Teslas and nuclear power plants... Whatever else Musk wants with Twitter — and obviously you should assume that he wants to make a lot of money — this seems like the ideological trend he hopes to resist or halt: the liberal retreat from dynamism, the progressive turn toward ideological regulation, the pervasive left-wing fear that the First Amendment and free speech are being weaponized by authoritarians and need some kind of check.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wondered how allowing Trump back on Twitter would play out politically.

"Liberal Twitter is appalled, but we wonder if returning would help or hurt the former President," the board wrote. "Twitter banned Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, and the constant din of his media presence has since been muted. He communicates with emailed statements and occasional interviews with friendly journalists. Our sense is that this may have helped Mr. Trump. With him out of the spotlight, Americans haven’t had to listen to the daily controversies that dominated his Presidency and were a major reason he lost to Joe Biden, of all candidates.

"Instead the public focus has been on President Biden’s policies and their results," it added. "Voters can contrast today’s inflation and the rest to the relative policy success of the Trump years. If Mr. Trump is back in public view, picking fights on an hourly basis and blaming everyone else for his election defeat, he might remind voters why they grew tired of his antics and made him a one-term President."


My take.

For starters, I'd bet good money Trump is coming back.

I know the former president says he is staying on "Truth Social," but that platform has had nothing but hiccups and is largely inconsequential in terms of spreading his message. How many Truth Social posts from Trump have you heard or read about? He has 2.7 million followers there, all of whom are almost certainly his most loyal supporters, compared to the 80 million he had on Twitter. Does anyone believe a man with such a laser focus on media attention would turn down his megaphone if Elon Musk handed it back to him? I certainly don’t.

I also agree that he should come back. Musk's rationale aligns nicely with my view of issues like this. Temporary bans are useful, but Twitter’s permanent ban was always an extraordinarily harsh penalty. In the context of what happened then, I wrote that "it did not appear tenable to keep Trump on Twitter." I think that was true. Given the absolute spiraling of Jan. 6, and everything that happened that day, putting Trump in timeout — until the transfer of power was complete — was a no-brainer. But a permanent ban, as Musk said, is a different animal. I also wrote this in the days after Trump was banned:

What typically happens when people are de-platformed is not that their influence or power is diminished, but that they are martyred in the eyes of their supporters — entering another plane of importance now that they have been directly targeted by “the establishment” or “Big Tech.” Indeed, such a sweeping move does not delegitimize or destroy them so much as it empowers them by affirming their position — and the belief of their ardent supporters — that they are so important as to need to be targeted... I truly don’t know what the answer is. I don’t... But I just can’t shake the feeling that this all feels off, that it’s all going to make things worse, and that it’s absurd to see the President of the United States banned while actual dictators remain on Twitter.

Perhaps it's true that for many regular Twitter users of a liberal orientation, life without Trump on the platform has been pleasant. But it appears my prediction about Trump was accurate: He was martyred. His ban is now one of the many bullet points conservatives cite about Big Tech bias and the stolen election. 4 in 5 Republicans in battleground states still support him. Elected and prospective Republicans bend over backward for his endorsement. And Trump carries on, now on Fox News, Truth Social, etc., still the ostensible leader of the party and the clear favorite (right now) to win the Republican nomination in 2024 if he actually runs.

If anything, Trump's ban actually helped him. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Trump regularly shot himself in the foot on Twitter. From a purely political stance, I don't think Democrats who are worried about the 2022 midterms or 2024 election are thinking this through. The odds Trump improves their chances by existing on Twitter as he did before seem much higher to me than the reverse. Jan. 6 should have been a death blow for his political career, but instead he has largely fallen into the background and been rehabilitated — almost entirely by virtue of taking up less oxygen — while President Biden flounders.

The ban is also deeply inconsistent.

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei calls for the “final solution” in Israel with no repercussions, but Trump gets banned for saying he wasn't attending the inauguration — which Twitter interpreted as a signal it'd be safe to attack Washington D.C. That is quite the leap. Vladimir Putin's Twitter account is perfectly intact, tweeting about "the special military operation to protect Donbass," even as he slaughters innocents in Ukraine. The Taliban, which is currently forcing women back into the Stone Age in Afghanistan, has a spokesman with 612,000 followers on Twitter — and he is not alone. Twitter has repeatedly defended allowing them to prosper on their platform, but Trump is still in exile.

It's nonsensical.

Musk also made a larger point, one that I've made several times in this newsletter: Permanently banning Trump has only siloed him. It has simply divorced the country even further, and pushed people into tighter, smaller information bubbles that are far less frequently pierced by opposing viewpoints.

Trump has been banned from Twitter for over a year. If he comes back and breaks the rules, he should get banned again. Twitter has rules and they should be enforced (evenly). But given how it has handled other enforcement policies, and given the time that’s passed, it's unclear why this should go on much longer.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: There’s been a slew of articles and Twitter posts claiming that many Republican anti-abortion laws will also outlaw IUDs. I can’t seem to find this in the text of the trigger laws. Do many Republicans want to outlaw IUD’s or is it Democratic fear mongering?

— Anonymous, California

Tangle: There are definitely some extreme proposals out there. State Republican parties have passed over 500 laws restricting abortion since January, and I imagine that will continue (or accelerate) as the Roe ruling gets closer. Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn has expressed opposition to the right to access contraception, calling the Griswold v. Connecticut case (which enshrined that right) "legally unsound." Blake Masters, a Peter Thiel-backed Republican senate candidate in Arizona, said he'd oppose any judge who doesn't view Griswold as wrongly decided.

The Kansas Republican party is pushing a "Value Them Both" amendment to its state constitution, which protects abortion, and the amendment would include a 20 year prison sentence for any woman who receives an abortion.

As for IUDs and contraception, there are two main drivers of those headlines: One is Idaho State Rep. Brent Crane, who said he is going to hold hearings on banning IUDs and Plan B. The other is Louisiana House Republicans, who advanced a sweeping antiabortion bill this week that “ensure[s] the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings.” That would effectively make the use of in-vitro fertilization, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception acts of homicide.

So, do "many" Republicans want to outlaw IUDs? I don't know. So far, only a few are really going on record in support. But it isn't just fear mongering. The threat is very real, and it's also logical: Most pro-life Americans desire to ban abortion from the moment of conception, and quite a few have been calling for bans on things like IUDs for years (it should be noted that IUDs typically prevent sperm from reaching the egg, though depending on how you define pregnancy, some feel interfering with a fertilized egg is on par with an abortion). Many in the antiabortion movement haven't exactly been shy about these views.

These laws are precisely why I sounded the alarm about the Roe v. Wade ruling and part of what makes me so concerned about the future.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a new historic high in 2021, according to new data from the CDC. 108,000 people died from drug overdoses from January to December, 2021. "That's about a 15% increase from the number of deaths in 2020," Farida Ahmad, a research scientist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, said. Nearly 94,000 died in 2020. 80,000 of the overdose deaths involved opioids and 71,000 involved illegally manufactured fentanyl, which is increasingly mixed into a range of illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and even prescription drugs. For the first time in a decade, the number of teenagers dying from drug overdoses also rose. NPR has the story.


Numbers.

  • 61%. The percentage of Americans who said Twitter should ban Trump, according to a January 2021 poll.
  • 39%. The percentage of Americans who opposed Twitter's ban of Trump, according to a January 2021 poll.
  • 54%. The percentage of Americans who said the ban should be lifted in February of 2021, after Trump was out of office.
  • 46%.  The percentage of Americans who said the ban should stay in place in February of 2021, after Trump was out of office.
  • $1.57 trillion. The amount by which the U.S. budget deficit has fallen this year, thanks to rising wages and employment.
  • $6.7 billion. Disney's first quarter earnings from its Parks, Experiences and Products segment, up from $3.2 billion in 2021.

Have a nice day.  

Astronomers announced today they have captured the first direct picture of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The New York Times called it "A supermassive black hole, a trapdoor in space-time through which the equivalent of 4 million suns have been dispatched to eternity, leaving behind only their gravity and a violently bent space-time."

Image: Event Horizon Collaboration/National Science Foundation

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