Alan Keyes
Why Twitter is perfect for demagoguery
By Alan Keyes
September 4, 2017

For years now, the "gods" of style when it comes to the written word have encouraged educated people to be obsessed with simplicity in speech and writing. They worship at the altar of writers like Ernest Hemingway and Jack London, idols of the 20th century's obsession with what became the "journalistic style" of writing. The "Twitter culture" epitomizes the demands of this style. Its purported ruling principle is that no thought is allowed that cannot be expressed in 140 characters or less. Thus, the "Twitter brain" is supposed to subsist, as it were, on airlifted supplies, like a remote village in the Alaskan bush. No "trains of thought" (wicked or otherwise, Mr. Hobbes) are allowed. It even banishes truck convoys.

Twitter-supplied brains subsist on little packets of information. They are never challenged to wrestle with complex logical reasoning, much less note its absence. Twitter brains, like the cards that supplied information to early computers, are punched, rather than irrigated. They fall like desert dew toward morning, quickly evaporating in the light of day. The impression of each drop does not linger long enough for the pattern they form, or fail to form, to be noted or missed.

Purporting to sustain rational thought with a Twitter diet is like publishing a thousand-page joke book filled with punch lines, and nothing else. Who'll get the jokes? Only those who already know, or think they know, the set-up. As things stand these days, people informed (or misinformed) by media may get the jokes. Others won't. But we all know that, given human nature, many will laugh simply because others do. This isn't because of their sense of humor. It's because they take comfort in the false sense of belonging derived from being part of the crowd.

At its root, the word comfort alludes to strength. In this case, it's strength in numbers. Where democracy is the rule, the people's strength in numbers is the source of their claim to power. For individuals who aim to rule in the people's name, Twitter is the ideal tool for gaining access to whatever authority is associated with that power. All they have to do is deploy punchlines calculated to meet with a positive response from crowds informed (or misinformed) by the same source of information.

Because they all understand the punchline in the same way, each of them will be prone to conclude that the demagogue understands them. Some others, observing the movement of that crowd, will be moved to join them. Aggregate the effects of a thousand punchlines, and their source may become the focus of thousands of thousands of people. From the outside, this common focus makes it appear that they all have something in common. But in fact, each crowd represents a different understanding, or misunderstanding, of the world. That appearance of unity exists because all appear to respond to the Twitter impresario in the same way. But in fact, they do not have the same reason or cause for their appearance in the crowd. Some are responding because they know, or think they know, the context for the punchline. Others are responding because the gathering crowd gives them a false sense of power and/or belonging.

They are like people gathering in a neighborhood street after hearing a loud noise. They come together in the street, forming a crowd. But though they are, all of them, responding to the noise, they do not necessarily share the same understanding of what it signifies. Some heard it like the crack of doom, promising destruction. Others thought it was a gunshot, and feared some injury to a friend or offspring. To others, it seemed like the noise of a firecracker, and promised, at the very least, an amusing spectacle. Though the sound causes all of them to gather, each is, according to their own mind, responding to a different understanding. In this respect, their movement does not in fact have a common cause.

What is true for those who gather in response to each tweet is obviously true of the aggregation of crowds that constitute the whole Twitter following. Each individual acts on his or her own understanding of the attention-grabbing tweet. The congregation that results appears in relation to a common stimulus, but it is not united in a common cause.

This reminds us of the time described in the Bible (Judges 17:6) when "everyone did what seemed right in his own eyes." In respect of human community, it represents a world in which there are many causes, but no cause; a similitude in action but, on the whole, no common sense which motivates those who participate in it.

The reason Twitter is such a good instrument for the demagogue is that it allows one to succeed despite being a "rebel without a cause." Such a demagogue divides the house, without substantively uniting the fragments that result. In this respect, the result does not simply produce partisan, or even factional, divisions. It produces disintegration. That may be forestalled for a time, the way a thoroughly shattered windshield is held together by its situation.

On this analogy, the American people await the impact that explodes our fragilized union into shards and dust. It will not be a dramatically large impact, just a "straw that breaks the camel's back" – a relatively small event, in a series of events, which precipitates enormously destructive consequences. However, contrary to the analysis Americans are being invited to accept, this is not because our union has no basis in our spirit, heart, and mind. Rather, it's because we are being drawn away from the common sense and purpose that forged our national identity – which purpose is to fulfill God's reason for our being, so that, by our mutually demonstrated goodwill toward one another, our gathering of many peoples calls humanity to stand together, according God's good will towards us and all of His Creation.

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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