Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)Elon Musk just threw a wrench in the next US presidential election — to the benefit of Donald Trump.
With the man thought to be the world’s richest buying Twitter, the platform is likely in for some big shifts. Among them: changes to the terms of service that would allow currently banned users to return. That could include the former President.
Trump was permanently suspended after the January 6 riots; the company said it worried his tweets increased “the risk of further incitement of violence.” But Musk is a self-styled free speech absolutist, who has criticized many of Twitter’s efforts to reign in trolling and abuse on the platform. “If in doubt, let the speech exist,” Musk told the audience at a recent TED conference. “If it’s a gray area, I would say, let the tweet exist.”
Already, there is wide speculation that a Musk-owned social media platform will welcome Trump back. For his part, Trump says he wouldn’t return, but it’s hard to imagine that a man with such itchy Twitter fingers would be able to stay away for long.
Trump’s return to Twitter, some commentators argue, would be a gift to Democrats. “Trump being back on Twitter is terrible for the country but really good news for Democrats,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Trump’s tweets would remind moderate voters of just how unhinged the former President is, and emphasize that, while Democrats may be boring, they aren’t deranged or dangerous. And that, the argument goes, translates into Democratic wins in the midterms. If Trump is the Republican candidate in 2024, Twitter increases the probability that he loses.
I’m not so sure.
This “sunlight is the best disinfectant” theory was, after all, the dominant argument in 2016. When Trump was selected as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, many liberals were worried about what that said about conservative voters. They were largely relieved, however, that GOP primary voters had clearly picked the worst possible contender.
After all, Americans would never elevate a man who could barely string a sentence together, had no prior political experience, regularly went on bigoted rants, mocked a disabled reporter, was clear in his authoritarian ambitions and bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, right?
What so many of us didn’t anticipate was that Trump’s antics meant he owned the news cycle. Instead of discrediting him, that normalized him. He reveled in it, and right-wing media figures turned themselves inside out to insist that his words and actions were normal and acceptable — little more than locker room talk.
Instead of spurring widespread disgust, Trump’s unapologetic bigotry sent the left reeling and created a culture of permissiveness on the right — the filter
Opinion: Elon Musk’s move threatens to bring Trump back to the White House
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