I really don’t care that former President Donald Trump was acquitted of inciting a riot. I just want him to go away.
If it were up to me, I’d drop him to the bottom of the sea with a lifetime supply of McDonald’s and a breathing tube. I’d even sink him some Diet Cokes.
But it’s not up to me, which is probably a good thing (and I wouldn’t actually do that, for the record, nor do I advocate it.)
It’s also a good thing that I don’t run Facebook or Twitter, because I might just do what Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have: ban Trump from my platform for life and giggle to myself in the shower every morning. But how is that a solution in a free society?
I’ve argued half-heartedly on Dorsey’s platform that Facebook and Twitter — not to mention Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit and Twitch — are private companies that can block anyone they want, including former presidents. But my better angels aren’t hearing it. (I hate them sometimes.)
Here’s what the enlightened spirits have to say: truth overcomes mistruth when both are exposed to the full light of day; good ideas defeat bad ones in time and more speech is always better than less speech. One just has to be patient. What’s more, the power we’ve given these social media platforms to redact opinion is almost certainly more dangerous over time than any renegade political figure.
But what about the lies? Can the public handle them?
The Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol suggests no. But I try to think bigger.
Communism is a lie at its core and so is fascism, for example. Both thrive under censorship and perish under the forces of free expression. Trumpism, a mere collection of disjointed grievances, should wilt under the faintest light.
So why hasn’t it?
The voice of panic says the old rules no longer apply. The internet is too powerful, people too gullible — look at "Q"! But the voice of reason says keep the faith, pal, give it time.
In Washington, Democrats, with whom I mostly disagree philosophically, laid out a powerful case for impeachment conviction because what they’ve presented is true. The occurrences of Jan. 6 were put forward in living color for all to see. The fact that their efforts didn’t succeed — that a preponderance of Republican senators failed to act on that truth — is almost immaterial. What matters is that the facts are being told. Let them sit out there; truth has a way of gaining purchase over time.
Should social media companies allow people to spread lies online? I’d argue the alternative is worse. Sure, one can’t legally scream fire in a crowded movie theater or incite insurrection against the authority of the United States, but if one can say something in a bar or even at a Klan rally, God forbid, they should be able to communicate it on the internet, however awful it may be. In this modern era, the internet is speech, and its public platforms can no longer realistically be viewed as proprietary in a free society.
Freedom comes with responsibility, though, and bad ideas and instincts must be met with better ones wherever and whenever they are presented. That takes work. It’s what we’re seeing in Congress this week.
As much as I dream of Trump vanishing from public consciousness tomorrow, I grudgingly acknowledge that it won’t come any time soon. Because the cure to Trumpism is Trumpism itself. It must collapse on its own over time.
How terribly unsatisfying.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.