Imagine if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suddenly said she agrees with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about, say, how to fix the nation’s infrastructure. Or McCarthy said he disagrees with Pelosi on certain policies but finds her leadership laudable. Or, for good measure, try to envision Donald Trump saying anything nice about Joe Biden.
That’s about how much of a head-shaker one particular statement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) over the weekend turned out to be. After Facebook’s own so-called Supreme Court, formally titled the Oversight Board, but hardly adherent to any sort of legal standard, extended its ban on former President Trump a week ago, the left-wing senator and progressive icon from Massachusetts ripped into, not Trump, but the social media giant.
An Unlikely Concord
In an interview with something called Cheddar News, Warren began with what almost sounded like an obligatory condemnation of the 45th president: “I’m glad he’s not on Facebook. He poses a real danger.” But then she launched into a tirade against the social media company which, despite Warren’s previous history of anti-social media statements, must have shocked leftists still celebrating the extension of Trump’s ban. And it had to seem even more incredible to those leftists who had the opposite criticism of Facebook from Warren: refusing to make the ban permanent.
But the senator, in effect, defended Trump with a screed along the lines of “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
“I don’t think that Facebook ought to have this kind of power. We need to break up these giant tech companies, and Facebook is one of them. They are crushing competition … and in cases like Facebook, they’re acting like they’re bigger than government. The group that made this decision calls itself ‘the Supreme Court’ — they are not the Supreme Court, they’re part of a private company. They need to be broken up, we need a chance for competition to flourish here, and we need a chance to have some power that balances out what these giants are up to.”
So apparently politics really does make the strangest of bedfellows. And Senator Warren, not always known for her political independence, deserves credit for speaking truth to power, even in a circumstance where a political enemy ends up being cast in a more favorable light – as a victim rather than perpetrator.
Meeting in the Middle?
At a time when the country is praying – literally or figuratively – for reconciliation between the left and right, as the two sides themselves continue their assault on each other, we look for any sign of agreement that could lower the temperature on the tribal warfare currently defining the state of politics. And both sides appear appropriately wary of the power of social media. Perhaps it is for different reasons – the right fearing its censorship, the left its growing power. But they all recognize, no matter your ideology, how quickly Facebook, Twitter and the rest can make you – or break you.
Can left and right meet somewhere near the middle to tamp down the remarkable and chilling level of power accumulated by these titans of the 21st century? Well, the answer is the same as on infrastructure, where both sides agree there’s a problem, but come at it from different if not opposite directions. But we have seen truly bipartisan efforts before, even in the balkanized political environment that has overtaken the country for more than half a decade. In 2018, the two parties came together around the issue of criminal justice reform, passing a genuinely bipartisan bill hailed by both then-President Trump and Nancy Pelosi. May that achievement serve as both an inspiration and a blueprint for responsible debate between Republicans and Democrats on something, anything. And social media looks like a logical place to start.
Read more from Tim Donner.