According to CNN, British officials fear the political consequences if Prince Harry and his bride-to-be invite Barack and Michelle Obama, with whom they are friends, to their wedding, but not President Trump. I don’t know whether these officials have any reason to expect political consequences in that event, but if they do, perhaps they should also worry about the interview Harry conducted with Barack Obama today on BBC radio.
The Prince gave the former president the opportunity to take a shot at Trump, and Obama obliged, albeit in a veiled fashion. At least that’s how our media is viewing their exchange.
Under the heading “Addressing Trump, obliquely,” the New York Times reports:
While neither man mentioned Mr. Trump directly, they discussed the role of social media in leadership, a conversation that brought to mind Mr. Trump’s blunt, unvarnished posts on Twitter.
Mr. Obama warned against the irresponsible use of social media by people in positions of power and expressed his concern about a future in which facts were discarded.
“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
“The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanization of society and allows ways of finding common ground.”
I’m no fan of Trump’s Twitter feed*, but Obama’s comments tell us more about Obama than about the current president. The former president views the internet as a technology to be harnessed in the interest of finding common ground (more about what he means by that, below). He appears to see the expression of diverse views as something to be “allowed,” but to be balanced against the quest for common ground, rather than a right. (Obama spoke fondly about the days when three giant networks supplied the masses with their facts).
Moreover, although he claims to oppose the state making decisions about what is on the internet, he also says: “All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet.” To me this suggests that he wants an over-sized role for the government when it comes to what the internet will look like and how it will function.
There’s plenty of “space” on the internet right now, and nothing about the internet prevents any of that space from being “common.” The extent to which the space is “common” should depend on individuals, not our leaders.
Obama pretends that the internet is “lead[ing] to a Balkanization of society.” In reality, as he must know, the internet simply reflects our Balkanization.
That Balkanization is the product of the quest to radically transform America — a quest that, as president, Obama spearheaded. Because many, probably most, Americans adamantly oppose the radical transformation of our country, the push for it can’t help but yield “Balkanization.”
We’re lucky the phenomenon is playing out on the internet, not in the streets, though some on the left are now taking it there.
In discussing common ground, Obama still harps on the kind of mush he served up at the Democratic Convention in 2004 — common sports teams, and all that. However, I believe the common ground Obama really wants to find is the ground between his entire transformative agenda and America as we know it — in other words, portions of his radical agenda, to be followed by additional portions, as he seeks more common ground.
Between that dynamic and “Balkanization,” I’ll take the latter every time.
* At one point, Obama calls for people to go “off-line” and meet those with whom they interact on the internet at “a pub or a church.” He says it’s harder to be “as obnoxious and cruel” in person than online.
This may be true in general, but it doesn’t apply to President Trump. He showed during the 2016 campaign that he can be as obnoxious and cruel in person as online.