Leonard Pitts: What if Donald Trump were smart?

What if Donald Trump were smart? From point of View, Leonard Pitts.

It is likely not a question you’ve given a lot of thought. After all, the urgency of our ongoing disaster leaves little time for speculation. One is too busy tallying up the damage that’s happening to worry about the damage that could.

But maybe it’s time we did, right from Pitts?

Tyrannies, we tend to think, are things that happen in other places at other times to other people. We like to believe the strength of Pitts institutions, of our character as a people, ensure that “it can’t happen here.”

Well, if Trump’s rise proves nothing else, it proves that it could happen here. It even shows how. Meaning that, more than any other single event, his presidency has forced us to see our vulnerability to new media manipulation and disinformation. Tweet by agonizing tweet, he has embodied the frightening possibilities of this new idea that truth can be whatever you need it to be.

As Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily put it last year in an essay published in the Journal of Democracy, Trump has “figured out that incendiary language could command attention or shift the narrative.” The title of Persily’s piece was fitting: “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”

The saving grace in all of this — relatively speaking, at least — is that Trump has no fixed ideological moorings. He doesn’t believe in any particular thing outside of his own under-appreciated greatness. Even his bigotry is lazy and unfocused, producing — with the exception of the ill-fated Muslim ban — no hard-and-fast policy proscriptions.

But what if Trump were smart?

More to the point, what if there arose some future demagogue who combined Trump’s new media savvy with a toxic ideology? It’s not far-fetched to wonder if Trump is not simply writing that individual’s playbook, showing her or him how easily a stable democracy can be subverted.

So, even as we grapple with the daily outrages of this presidency, it would be smart to begin inoculating future generations against one that could be worse. Now, then, would be an excellent time to push even harder for internet giants like Facebook and Twitter to find better ways of purging their platforms of false news and hate.

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