Ruling by Twitter

If you rely on South African TV news channels to keep you up to date on world affairs you can be forgiven for not knowing about the devastating fire at Paris’ iconic 850-year-old landmark cathedral of Notre Dame last month, at least not until well after the flames had been extinguished.
For, while international news channels carried wall-to-wall coverage of the blaze and the heroic efforts by Paris fire teams to contain it, South Africans were being told about the goings-on of our thieves-in-chief, Jacob Zuma and Ace Magashule. Riveting stuff.
One prominent citizen of the world who was not watching the Jacob & Ace show while Notre Dame burned was America’s first citizen, that intellectual man of action and, by his own admission only, champion golfer, Donald Trump.
And he wasted no time in telling his millions of followers on Twitter all about it. “Horrible to see” is how he described the flames adding helpfully that firefighters “must act quickly!”
Then, exercising his giant intellect to its maximum he added “send lots of water” forgetting, clearly, that water was the least of the fire teams’ problems as Notre Dame is built on an island in the River Seine, so it is surrounded by water.
Finally, Trump clearly envisioned a role for the military in saving the cathedral when he suggested aerial bombardment by water- carrying aircraft.
Was he thinking, here, of a squadron of Flying Fortresses dropping payloads of water-filled condoms on the Paris landmark? The last time Flying Fortresses flew over Europe they weren’t carrying water filled condoms but were carrying payloads which all but levelled cities such as Dresden and Hamburg in a totally random manner. I’m sure the good citizens of Paris would have been delighted, while mourning the loss of their beloved cathedral, to be faced with the prospect of cleaning their streets of burst littlelatex bags.
One can say many things about The Donald, none of them favourable, and it’s true that he has turned “the land of the free and the home of the brave” into a laughing stock, but Trump’s sputterings on Twitter are a manifestation of a much bigger and more serious issue. And that is that we are being ruled by tweets. Or by twits who tweet … take your pick. Today’s politicians have vigorously embraced the idea of imparting their drips of dubious wisdom in little 140-character word-blasts, thinking that their subjects (us) have the collective attention span of a bunch of three-month old mongrel puppies. We’re being taken for fools.
Trump is by far the worst example of the genre, but they’re all at it. Theresa May’s tweets have the air of a pedantic schoolmistress. Boris Johnson’s tweets vary from the ascerbic to the thoroughly off the wall. Emmanuel Macron’s need translating but have a modicum of sense about them, even if it’s socialist claptrap. Even our own lot use Twitter ~ with varying degrees of success. Remember Helen Zille’s problems when she tweeted about the results of colonialism being not all bad, and her earlier one about “education refugees” from the Eastern Cape seeking better schooling in the Western Cape? Those got her into a whole lot of trouble with the chattering classes.
I wonder if, when they dreamed up the idea of Twitter, the developers understood the Sodom and Gomorrah they were unleashing on an unsuspecting world. Because so far, quite apart from giving Donald Trump a free and easy platform on which to spread his stupidities Twitter has been responsible for starting riots and uprisings, has resulted in the deterioration of established news coverage (and by extension the weakening of the Fourth Estate generally) and has enabled the wholesale spread of uncurated “fake news” and propaganda on any topic you care to think of.
But Twitter’s biggest danger, I believe, is in the field of politics.
The point is that there has to be a whole lot more to policy-formulation and political messaging than can be crudely imparted in 140-character word-bites. Surely.
Because if there isn’t … if it’s so easy to communicate with one’s electorate that one can do it in little brain-farts regardless of one’s mental condition or state of sobriety, well, then, politicians are thoroughly overpaid. But we knew that, didn’t we?