Most people who tweet shouldn’t. But as much as removing all the self-promoters, virtue-signallers, trolls and haters might make Twitter a truly useful communications tool, it would also make it unrepresentative of our times.
We live in an era in which self-expression trumps self-reflection every time. One in which the instant gratification of an ad hominem tweet beats actually considering the substance of another’s argument. Ignorance is worn as a badge of honour.
How fitting, then, that the person who most embodies this shoot-off-your-mouth-first era leads the most powerful country in the world. There is an upside to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter compulsion in that it gives us invaluable insight into how his brain works. Unfortunately, the vomit he tweets just rips his country further in two.
This week, however, even Mr. Trump was outdone in the brainless-venting-on-Twitter category by Roseanne Barr. The now erstwhile Roseanne star tweeted herself out of her sitcom gig with a repugnant attack on former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Like most tweets, Ms. Barr’s revealed more about its author than its subject. She blamed her outburst – for which she apologized, but not enough for ABC to reinstate her TV show – on her sleeping pills. The maker of Ambien retorted, on Twitter of course, that “racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”
You only had to sample the Twitter reaction to Ms. Barr’s ousting to conclude that there is no worse forum for debating a matter as explosive and complicated as race in America than a social-media platform that limits interventions to 280 characters without screening participants to determine whether they have anything useful to say.
The volume may be several decibels lower in Canada, but a similar inch-deep Twitter debate about systemic racism has been playing out here, thanks to the duelling tweets of MPs Maxime Bernier and Celina Caesar-Chavannes. Each has leveraged the feud to solicit donations, which is a sad commentary on contemporary Canadian civics, where social-media catnip has replaced ideas as the preferred tool of political mobilization.
Mr. Bernier, a white Conservative who leans libertarian, got his thumbs going in March when he responded to a tweet from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen touting the 2018 federal budget’s funding for mental-health programs for “racialized” Canadians. Mr. Bernier took issue with this and tweeted: “I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same. Not to set some Canadians apart as being ‘racialized.’ What’s the purpose of this awful jargon? To create more division for the Liberals to exploit?”
Mr. Bernier had a point, sort of. Mr. Hussen belongs to a government that practises identity politics as a branding tool. Its discourse panders shamelessly to aggrieved minorities, while its actual policies offer them them little more than tokenism.
Ms. Caesar-Chavannes, however, was having none of it and tweeted at Mr. Bernier to “check your privilege and be quiet.” She soon apologized for that, but was back at it last week, explaining to The Globe and Mail ’s Laura Stone that Mr. Bernier “doesn’t have to ever know what it’s like to live with colour. So, you sit there and say you don’t see it. Well, good for you, because you’ve never had to experience it, sweetheart. So check yourself.”
Mr. Bernier bristled at the “sweetheart” designation, and tweeted: “That’s the main difference between us. You think the world revolves around your skin colour.”
Several more tweets between the two ensued without either ceding an inch or attempting to understand the other.
Though Mr. Bernier and Ms. Caesar-Chavannes may appear to have been tweeting at each other, they’ve really been tweeting past each other. And both seem to prefer it that way.
Mr. Bernier is a rock star among Canadian libertarians, even if most of them are probably not old enough to vote and don’t have enough life experience to appreciate that Ayn Rand’s world can only exist in novels. Maturity is not their strong suit.
Ms. Caesar-Chavannes is an in-your-face Liberal and outspoken member of the new federal Black Caucus. She was born in Grenada and embodies the self-starter ethos libertarians claim to champion, with three children, two MBAs and a previous career in business. She also has a picture of murdered rapper Notorious B.I.G. on her Parliament Hill office wall and apparently little clue of, or sensitivity for, how immature that might seem to average Canadians.
Mr. Bernier and Ms. Caesar-Chavannes have a lot more in common than either appears willing to admit. They were both made for Twitter, and it for them.