When the President Gets Canceled
As well as being the only president to get impeached twice, Donald Trump has a new distinction as the only president to be effectively canceled on all major social media platforms.
Twitter indefinitely suspended his account after he tweeted, “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!!!”
Snapchat will permanently ban him after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, citing Trump’s “attempts to spread misinformation, hate speech, and incite violence.” Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Mark Zuckerberg, banned him at least until the end of his term. YouTube suspended his account for at least a week and possibly longer.
Besides facing social media repercussions, Trump is getting hit where it hurts: his pockets. Stripe has banned Trump (although it is allowing donations to his campaign to come through WinRed, a Stripe customer). Shopify closed all Trump stores on its platform. But what has affected Trump even more are actions taken by banks he’s associated with. Deutsche Bank will no longer do business with Trump or any of his companies. Signature Bank closed two of his personal accounts and called for his immediate resignation.
As Trump faces ramifications from Congress in the form of impeachment, his social capital has taken a massive hit. Social media, especially Twitter, gave him a place to spread unfiltered messaging. It has allowed him to shape discourse, mock reporters, and deride his enemies — all without any check on his power.
But the canceling of Trump was met with mixed reactions. Many on social media were gleeful. Some were frustrated that Twitter and other platforms didn’t do this earlier. Equally as many lambasted the decision to ban Trump, claiming censorship. But his incitement of violence does not fall under free speech laws.
The landmark Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio established that when speech satisfied two conditions, the government may prohibit it — when speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action.” Trump has a history of inciting violence and encouraging his supporters to hurl it against his opposition. The Capitol riot was just the latest, starkest, and most distinct manifestation of violence yet, directly incited by the president of the United States.
Cancellation has largely only reached social media influencers in petty scandals. Now, it has reached the halls of the White House and barged down the door of the Oval Office.
Not only is Trump’s incitement of violence not covered under the First Amendment, but on private platforms such as Twitter, it’s dictated in the terms and conditions that users agree to when they sign onto the platform. Much can be said about one company having that much sway and control over powerful political leaders, and its effects are yet to be seen. But when a user breaks the terms and conditions agreement, they are subject to removal from the platform. Trump is not allowed an exception because of his prominence; he is subject to the same rules as everyone else.
Trump’s cancellation is an important example of what actual “cancellation” is whenever conservatives refer to “cancel culture” from now on. Conservatives have lamented and purported the “cancel culture” of today, claiming that liberal “snowflakes” are too sensitive when they don’t stand for blatant bigotry and discrimination.
The phrase “cancel culture” has been used for several years now to bemoan more often than not well-intentioned attempts to make as many people as comfortable as possible. But this cancellation has largely only reached social media influencers in petty scandals. Now, it has reached the halls of the White House and barged down the door of the Oval Office. Conservatives’ worst fears of cancellation have become a reality. Nobody has been canceled like this president.
The president’s voice grows meeker by the day. When his term ends, he won’t even have the White House Press Briefing Room to share his lies. With his public platforms being stripped from him, Trump is restricted to media coverage, which will likely continue to be negative in his post-presidency.
Trump’s cancellation postures him for an even bleaker post-presidency than his time in office. Without his own platforms to spread his messaging, he must lean heavier on media perception to convey to the public. In his two-month bid to overturn the election since November, the outlets willing to tolerate his lies have been scarcer than ever. Trump and his supporters turned on Fox News, one of his greatest cheerleaders, ever since the network called Arizona for Biden. Now Trump supporters moved even further right to One America News Network (OANN) and Newsmax.
As much as Trump may criticize the mainstream media, he understands that it’s the main way for continued coverage. Even if it’s critical most of the time, it’s still publicity. More importantly, it allows Trump to warp his narrative: He’s an outsider, and the media elites do not want him to succeed; just look at all the negative coverage he gets. In Trump’s post-presidency, the less mentioned he is by the media, the less possibility of his message gaining any reach to the general public.
Trump is still powerful; his supporters are still active. He still has people in high places championing “Make America Great Again”-like ideas like Tucker Carlson on Fox News. But the loss and restrictions placed on his social media channels have significantly weakened him. Only time will tell if Trump’s deplatforming will embolden or diminish the spirits of MAGA supporters. The latter means the GOP will have to craft an identity separate from Trumpism. The former indicates the recurrence of events like the Capitol riots nationwide, or ones more severe, and this time, they can actually pull it off.