If Twitter Is the Public Square, Donald Trump is the Golden Idol in Its Middle

by John Ellis

Twitter is all abuzz with the news that Elon Musk has allowed ex-president Donald Trump back on the social media site. It doesn’t appear to be a decision that elicits a shrug from many people. Based on the reactions, many people vocally love the decision, believing that it’s a harbinger of better days ahead. On the other hand, many others loathe the decision, believing that it’s a harbinger of evil days ahead. While having some real-time/real-world consequences, I believe the most momentous consequence is how it helps expose the real issue: We do not speak the same language of flourishing/good.

For the record, if I owned Twitter, I wouldn’t reinstate Donald Trump’s account. His stochastic terrorism produces actual terrorism and violence, and giving him back a platform as large as Twitter will only exacerbate the problem. Failing to reinstate his Twitter account, though, would not be a violation of Trump’s First Amendment rights; it wouldn’t be squashing his right to free speech. However, because I know that to be true – denying Trump access to a Twitter account isn’t a violation of the First Amendment – I also acknowledge that Elon Musk has a right to allow whomever he wants, including Trump, on Twitter. No matter how much I may disagree with Musk’s decision, he currently has the right to make it.

Under the law, that is, Musk has the right. As currently interpreted and applied since the Fourteenth Amendment especially, he has the right. Is the First Amendment flawed, though? Should he have that right? That’s not an easy question to answer (the last one). By and large, (Western analytic – and to a degree Western continental) philosophy says, yes. On the other hand, by and large, history says, no. Two of my favorite disciplines disagree.

There are those, from the MAGA world, who believe that Twitter shouldn’t be allowed to deny Trump access to its platform. But they also want Twitter to deny access to those who run afoul of their definition of flourishing (the good). And in the back-and-forth, most coopt the natural right of free speech as existing at the center of their concern.

And this is one of the major things at the heart of the current turmoil in our society: so-called natural rights are being revealed as fool’s gold because as fallen humans living under sin’s Curse we are incapable of living with a thin Rawlsian definition of good. Yet, many of those who steer into a thick definition of good attempt to remain moored to a classical liberalism that doesn’t recognize them or their agenda. Having a similar starting point but with teleological goals that are wildly different adds confusing color to the absurdist play that is our fallen, broken cosmos.

We no longer live in a society that has a shared definition of flourishing. We never did, to be clear because only certain voices were provided access to the First Amendment and allowed free play within that societal definition of the good. The good was far more limiting and limited than those who look backwards with the perspective that halcyon days existed in Western (American) culture believe. What’s happened, especially since the ‘60s, is that individuals within the polis have been increasingly offered a wider variety of ultimately competing definitions of good. While this doesn’t create tensions (because those tensions were already there), it does encourage those tensions to bubble over into the public square.

I don’t have a temporal answer. Yet. My study of political theology continues, but the more I read, the less sure of that answer I become. At the moment, rereading Leo Strauss as well as Mouw is only making even the shadow of that answer harder for me to see at the moment.

My point? These things are far more complicated than whichever talking head is in your ear. Whatever the answer is, I know this: epistemic humility is essential. I also know that within evangelicalism, including many people I love, Christian nationalism is connected, on some level or other, to the definition of good that ground humans in the here-and-now in a direct rebuttal to King Jesus’ call for his followers to place their definitions of the material good in the eschaton. Resist that, brother or sister in Christ.

I’m not sure that allowing Donald Trump back on Twitter ultimately has much play in the real flourishing of followers of King Jesus. I am afraid that our response to Musk’s decision may reveal an idol in our heart. Surely, stochastic terrorism, among other violations of Kingdom ethics, should communicate that Donald Trump is not our ally. We should be careful about bowing before idols when King Jesus is waiting for us in the fiery furnace.

Please come back quickly, King Jesus.

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