This Advent, I am staying away from what has become a serious addiction for me: Twitter. I should probably make my fast permanent, as Twitter has a tendency not only to absorb my time but to twist my thoughts toward the negative, as it does for many people.
That having been said, a recent development with regard to that platform deserves comment. I am referring to Elon Musk’s decision to release internal documents relating to Twitter’s moderators in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election to a select number of journalists, including Matt Taibbi. Taibbi has been writing against the efforts by the security apparatus of the United States to influence journalism for many years now, and he was one of the first journalists to recognize the “Russiagate” story for the hoax that it was.
These documents reveal what many of us already suspected: that Twitter squashed potential news stories that might be harmful to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, in order to influence the election and defeat Donald Trump. Most notoriously, Twitter “moderators” suspended the account of the New York Post when they published a story on Joe Biden’s trouble son, Hunter, which allegedly implicated Joe Biden in efforts to find a sinecure for him.
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If you find these efforts to influence the election and take away the political voice of those who wished to vote for Trump appalling, you are not alone. But you are not part of any consensus or majority. A quick Google search reveals why: several news outlets have run stories declaring the whole affair to be a “snoozefest” while others called it a “bombshell.”
You can guess which outlets took which angle with regard to this story. For those who viewed Donald Trump to be an “existential threat” to the country, this is no big deal because he warranted such a violation of our normal standards of election integrity. But for those who do not share this alarm, this is quite disturbing.
Our information technology is such that a consensus among elites can be enforced on a population with greater efficiency than ever, even without them being fully aware of it. This technology means purely populist movements are effectively DOA, if they ever had much life at all. Thus, it is all the more urgent for minority movements (I am thinking of social conservatism, which is now a definite minority) to make alliances with elites.
This is how pro-lifers overturned Roe v. Wade: they made common cause with the Federalist Society to help elect candidates who would appoint judges who would overturn it. Pro-life activism at all levels was and is essential, but they needed support from elites willing to break with the elite consensus to achieve their goals.
This is why, I suspect, many people voted for Trump. He is a class traitor, and many who voted for him must have thought he would be more amenable to policies popular among voters but opposed almost unanimously by elites (such as immigration restriction) than other Republican politicians. It is also why Musk has become a pariah to the ruling class, as he threatens to deviate (however slightly) from their concerns. Both elections and public opinion have always been subject to manipulation by elites. But with technological advances, these efforts have become almost all encompassing, not to mention continuous.
People are naturally worried about constitutional liberties, but we would do well to remember that even with such rights guaranteed, the importance of technologies like Twitter is not the ability to express opinions but to increase the chances that they might be heard, listened to. It may sound counterintuitive, but I don’t think free speech is that important in political terms (though it does serve other important social functions).
My study of pamphlets and newspapers in the early modern era convinced me that elites are fine with “the people” having their say, as long as they don’t actually have to take anything they say seriously. This is because normally they are perfectly free to ignore them. You can legally guarantee people’s freedom to speak publicly, but you can never guarantee that their message will get a hearing from those for whom it is intended. That is because the former is a matter of legal rights, while the latter is mostly a question of power.
Which is why the fracas over Twitter is so important. Twitter is powerful because it can force even the very wealthiest, most powerful people in the most powerful country on earth to listen. Both the Arab Spring of 2011 and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 drove this home to the Democratic Party. Twitter played a vital role in galvanizing the opposition to the government in Egypt, and Donald Trump was able to appeal over the heads of established media to reach voters.
In both cases, it was crucial to their success. The Democrats and their far-left-wing adherents learned this lesson all too well, and this is why they were so invested in quashing news stories that might harm Joe Biden’s campaign in 2020.
Catholics need to understand that some kind of power is necessary to get politicians—even ones you have voted for—to listen to you. Republicans listen to pro-lifers because they are one of the few “grassroots” organizations on the Right capable of organizing large demonstrations, conducting voter drives, etc.—skills necessary to a politician’s survival and therefore useful to them.
They don’t listen to them about “same-sex marriage,” as the recent vote on the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” demonstrates, because more powerful voices are in their ear—but also because conservatives are in a much smaller minority on this issue than on abortion, and they are much less organized to effectively pressure their politicians to do anything about it.
In other words, you cannot just presume the loyalty of the politicians you vote for. You have to manufacture it by demonstrating you have enough power to force them to listen to your concerns and that you bring something of value that will help them. This may sound cynical to the very idealistic people who do so much for the pro-life movement and other causes that pious Catholics and Christians in general contribute to, but it is how politicians actually act (the vast majority, anyway).
All of which is to say that Twitter is a powerful means of accomplishing this, which is why it is very important that Catholic conservatives make allies among elites who are sympathetic to them. Elon Musk is neither Catholic nor a social conservative, but he is the kind of ruling-class non-conformist conservatives must cultivate if they want to have any realistic chance of achieving their political goals. The reason why is simple. Even if pro-lifers were to become a vast majority in this country, for the foreseeable future, the whole apparatus of elite institutions will be automatically against them.
This is another way of saying that, at least on a part-time basis, we are all activists now, whether we like it or not. However, as Catholics, we are also those awaiting the Advent of the Savior. While keeping all that I have said in mind, I don’t think anyone need be discouraged about recent political events. It is not as if our elites are omnipotent or omni-competent (nothing could be more obvious, in my opinion). If our political patrons do not always listen to us, our heavenly Patron certainly will.
In the meantime, I would advise Catholics to make a Twitter fast for a few days and instead focus your mind on Jesus Christ, the Savior. For unlike our worldly leaders, He always listens to His people, and He is always on our side.
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