Opinion

From D.C. to Tacoma, we need vaccination for Twitter flu

The world would be a better place if the only bird flu we had to worry about were the H7N9 virus — the most recent strain of avian influenza, which periodically flares up and devastates poultry populations.

The virus, usually found in Asia, doesn’t move easily between humans and hasn’t reached pandemic threat levels, at least not yet.

Alas, another kind of bird flu is raging out of control, from Washington, D.C. to Pierce County. The poor souls who contract it are prone to fevered bursts of self-destructive behavior, impulsive babbling and nonsense words.

While not fatal, it’s been known to cause serious damage to careers, political aspirations and the credibility of our nation’s president.

This contagion is transmitted by Twitter. As it turns out, those blue birds of the social-media kingdom carry more than 140-character tweets on their tiny wings; they spread a sickness that can render victims downright pathological.

They don’t discriminate between Republicans and Democrats — Anthony Weiner, anyone? — nor do they spare newspaper columnists.

Longtime Denver Post scribe Terry Frei was unable to return to work after being infected; the Post fired him after he tweeted he was “very uncomfortable” with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend.

President Donald Trump’s Twitter affliction needs no introduction. A proclivity to foam at the mouth via tweet is one of the most consistent things about the man, from his freewheeling billionaire days (“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest and you all know it!” — May 2013) through his presidential campaign (“Mexico will pay for the wall” — Sept. 2016), all the way to the White House.

Mark Oppenheimer, a Los Angeles Times opinion writer, compares America’s obsession with Twitter to a worm found in a fast-food hamburger —“the gross thing you see that reminds you of all the gross things you cannot see.”

What’s different about Trump is that he is so grossly straightforward, there’s not much left to the imagination. Stream-of-consciousness tweeting is how he rolls.

Of course, Trump is nothing if not a great showman; who else could coin the country’s hottest slang term of 2017 (“covfefe”) by making a typo while tweeting? The problem is that he spends much of his time on Twitter befouling U.S. interests and common decency.

Within a span of a few days last week, Trump insulted London’s mayor after a terrorist attack, undermined his own Justice Department and bragged about his speculative role in an Arab terror crackdown when he should have let Sunni allies take full credit.

The president sees his tweets as “a direct, unfiltered conduit to the public,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last week. “What he doesn’t quite understand is that for him — indeed for anyone — they are a direct conduit from the unfiltered id.”

And that brings us to Tacoma, where a bad case of the bird flu killed a political campaign last week.

In the short time it takes a Twitter scandal to blow up, Port of Tacoma Commission candidate Jim Jensen went from a poised up-and-comer with a $115,000 war chest to a humiliated election dropout with a lot of explaining to do.

The Gig Harbor businessman first got caught in doublespeak over his environmental credentials. Then a series of old tweets surfaced containing racist, misogynist, profane and just plain tacky remarks.

Jensen also tweeted worshipfully about Trump, even calling him “dad.” In the future, he might consider a different role model.

A resignation/apology statement, which Jensen issued on June 7, seemed to blame the medium as much as the message. “I wrote things on Twitter that I don’t believe and certainly would never think were acceptable to say. They do not represent me as a person, husband or father.”

These might be the brave words of a flu survivor, explaining the mad things he ranted while in a state of delirium. Or they might be the weak alibi of a person reckless enough to let it all hang out, omnia extares, on social media.

To which we say: Thank you, Twitter, for revealing this candidate’s unfiltered id before we made the mistake of electing him.

What a shame that the revelatory power of tweets didn’t have the same effect when America picked its 45th president.

Matt Misterek is editorial page editor at The News Tribune. Reach him by email at matt.misterek@thenewstribune.com.

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