Wrestling with Twitter

Dec 23, 2016

Now here is a question that would have been absolutely meaningless eighteen months ago. Should I read Donald Trump’s tweets or not? Wild as they are, do his little messages matter? One web-savvy friend of mine says, No, don’t waste time on his tweets, he’s a troll and the tweets are a distraction. Others say we have to monitor to these brash and pithy Twitter pronouncements. Read or not read? How to decide? I find my answer in some cherished memories of professional wrestling.

When I was a kid, wrestling had its own local TV show on Saturday night. My brothers and I hoped our parents would go out, because when they did we’d get to have popcorn and watch Wrestling at the Chase. Coming to you live from the Korasan Room of the beautiful Chase Park Plaza Hotel, and those gladiators in boots and trunks didn’t stop bouncing each other off the ropes until well after our official bedtime. We’d be shepherded through this revelry by a sitter, a teenage girl from the neighborhood named Suzanne. Among her fascinations was the ability to speak ig-pay atin-Lay at-way incredible-way eed-spay. But enough about that remarkable older woman from the past. Donald Trump’s tweets, and wrestling.

Professional wrestling has always been a spectacle. In recent years, over the top hasn’t been good enough. Wrestling has leap-frogged way over the top of over the top. When we watched on TV back then, wrestling was merely over the top. Wrestlers had names like Fritz von Eric, names so fanciful and bogus you couldn't help but delight in them. In personal style, each wrestler was plainly a good guy or a bad guy, and every bout offered miraculous swings of suspense and emotion. They performed their rituals on a platform made of acoustically resonant plywood sheets. Every footstep boomed, every fall was an explosion of sound. A wrestler could ricochet off the ropes to amplify the force of his next blow. A referee in a striped shirt kept a very loose control on the proceedings. By the time it was over, we were all worked up and wanted to wrestle right there in the living room. The spell was irresistible.    

Politicians are always trying to find an emotional connection to citizens, and Mr. Trump has talents in this area. His tweets are often over the top, sometimes even over the top of over the top. Sometimes they’re self-absorbed, sometimes so confident in his gut reactions to complex matters that they are breath-taking. About half the voters wanted him to stir things up, and his tweets show that he’s heard the message and he’s on the job. As a media platform, Twitter booms like a plywood wrestling ring for a person who knows how to smack it.

On TV back in the day, a week would pass and the same wrestlers would be back, repeating their rituals. They themselves were unchanged--the limp from the last episode was miraculously healed, the good guys still handsome, the bad guys so wicked you could spot them a mile away. The wrestling ring was full of sound and fury, but nothing significant ever happened there. On Twitter, however, some who get hit hard are going to feel sore in the morning because there will be policies behind the tweets. But more often, I think, the spectacle of his tweets will keep us all stirred up while other things go on inside the Washington Beltway. Like a magician, he seems to say, “Watch my hands. Keep your eyes on these little tweets. Don’t concern yourself with what’s happening over there inside the Beltway.”