Almost two months ago, in early August, I wrote a tweet that generated plenty of reaction – little or none of it positive. New York Post Columnist Salena Zito even used it to write a column about how reporters view working-class voters.
The only problem is that Salena, like others, took the tweet completely out of context and therefore didn’t understand what I meant.
The tweet – “Lots of people can’t support themselves or speak English in West Virginia” – certainly could sound like a gratuitous shot at West Virginia or at the less educated and less affluent. But not if you knew the context.
Here is what happened:
I often “live tweet” Donald Trump’s rallies and speeches, and that’s exactly what I was doing on August 3rd. (When there is a significant live event, I see Twitter as a communal activity, as if a bunch of people are sitting around, watching a sporting event and making comments about it.)
Usually, I quote the president, but sometimes I simply offer a comment or response to something he says, figuring those watching along with me will get my point. Twitter allows only 140 characters, after all, and it’s difficult to quote a lengthy sentence and also add a comment.
In this case, my “controversial” tweet followed Trump’s comments about immigrants and his plan to restrict their entry into the United States.
Here is what the president said at his West Virginia rally: “Our plan favors applicants who can speak English, who can support themselves financially, and who demonstrate valuable skills that will strengthen our economy.” (You can see the speech and audience reaction on a C-SPAN video at about 38 minutes into his speech.)
As soon as Trump uttered those comments, I turned his words around and tweeted “Lots of people can’t support themselves or speak English in West Virginia.”
My point, of course, was that many of the people at that rally, and in the state, are not all that different from the immigrants hoping to come to the United States.
The president was talking about excluding people who might need a government handout in a state where many also need a government handout. (West Virginia ranks 48th in household personal income.) And Trump was prepared to discriminate against immigrants who don’t have command of English in a state that ranks 42nd in percentage of high school graduates.
The irony of the situation apparently was lost on Trump, his supporters at the rally and many who read my tweet, including too many who had no idea what the president had said or how my tweet played off his remarks.
My Twitter mistake was in not understanding that people might read my tweet without knowing how and why it came about. For some, of course, even understanding the context of the tweet wouldn’t matter. They simply wanted to find some reason to be offended and outraged, a hook on which to hang their virulent anti-Semitic insults.
I will try to be clearer in the future when I tweet, but anyone who uses Twitter knows that it is impossible to make a serious argument in 140 characters. The platform simply is not suited for that. I try to be entertaining (often using sarcasm) even when I point out hypocrisy or make a political point, and I do not expect that will change. So, my advice to anyone following my tweets: Follow along and lighten up.