—A Model of Christian Charity, John Winthrop, 1630
Stirring, innit? Especially around Thanksgiving, as, until approximately five years ago wherein woke histocrats declared all American traditions racist and repugnant, we give thanks for life’s nurturant bounties, including homegrown glories like celluloid-puffing food and Hard Mountain Dew. John Winthrop’s City-on-a-Hill sermon is a bright spot in American rhetoric (despite being preached in the Old Country) because of its undiluted idealism of unity. It sounds especially inspiring when looking at a Kinkadian watercolor of a horn of plenty. Or, in my case this year, my kids’ messy hand-printed turkeys.
But in this season of the bird—roasted turkey, migratory murmurations heading south for DeSantis Land, pundit pinheads still squawking about the last election (hey!)—a certain feathered fowl is making quite a ruckus. EV magnate and impish equity gobbler Elon Musk has pulled off the impossible: made the insufferable, miserabilist journo class even more miserable. No, he didn’t personally shield a Trump-supporting OAP from doxxing. Musk simply deflated the press’s ball.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Twitter was supposed to go the way of the Butterball tom. “Twitter is cooked!” many of its leading blue lights declared, before announcing their intention to exodus to a pedophilic hub. Some came crawling back, tail tucked between hairless chicken legs. Others continue to warble warnings about an impending flip-over disease.
Why the Chicken-Littling, if I may stick with the aves theme? Because Musk did as all vulture capitalists do and culled the flock (two for one!). He dramatically—heedlessly, even—fired en masse, spatchcocking staff then picking off resentful survivors. In other words, he was aiming to make Twitter what it’s never been: a profitable business.
This massive pink slipping caused concern over app functionality—you can’t furlough half your workforce without something going awry. Except, other than a few glitchy interface issues, news of Twitter’s topping was greatly exaggerated. The relatively few bumps in Musk’s profitability plan shouldn’t be surprising: Twitter is a glorified message board. And sweaty neckbeards in grimy sweatpants used to manage Star Trek fan-fiction message boards for free.
Nonetheless, the press can’t cork its naysaying. So they’ve rewritten the narrative. Musk is no longer endangering his bottom line by toying with something he doesn’t understand; his money-grubbing threatens democracy itself. “Twitter is the world’s digital public square. What happens if it dies?” CNN tattle-tale Oliver Darcy wondered. Notice the script-flip: Twitter used to be a privately held concern where programmers could strike any kind of content from its annals—like the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop reporting. Or a certain self-obsessed president with bullhorns for thumbs. But now the network is an indispensable public good. And that evil-minded billionaire Musk is polluting the public weal by ransacking it for his own selfish purposes, e.g. to make a buck. The bastard!
In a New York Times write-up of the birdsite feather-ruffle, muckraker Steven Weiss mewled, “The period in which Twitter served as a clubhouse for journalists was valuable for journalism as a profession.” Now Musk has barged in the gathering, uninvited guests in arm, and yanked the fire alarm. NBC senior reporter Ben Collins echoed the violation sentiment, first imploring his followers to abandon twit-ship before tweeting an overwrought lament: “If this place dies, there’s no place for centralized protest or citizen reporting of events.”
(Days later, Collins irresponsibly conjectured that the Colorado Dorthy dram-shop shooter was a MAGA-mainlining homophobe. He then doubled down on his contention despite the perpetrator claiming rainbow allyship. Responsible reporting, that!)
“So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” Winthrop enjoined his Salem-bound brethren. The moralizing sentiment is shared by the corporate press, who, as a profession, inform the commons to foster democracy. At least, that’s the theory. But in America, journalism has never been about public enlightenment. The press is composed of agenda-driven scribblers, no more high-minded than three-card monte hornswoggles.
More so, that so many journalists are welded to Twitter to the point of calling it a peerless public square shows incredible internet illiteracy. That Twitter happens to host so many fifth-estate members is just happenstance. Plus, only about a quarter of the country even scrolls with the bluebird bulletin. Any site online can function as an open piazza, ready to be defaced by odious opinions, bad-faith argumentation, conspiracy theories, get-your-goat trolling, and rage hustling. That’s mostly what today’s journalism is, anyway. There’s no reason it can’t migrate to Facebook, where boomers already run the board on flame wars.
Social media once held the promise of helping us “delight in each other,” to break down acrimonious divides by instantiating intermediated connection. As an OG PayPal Mafia member, Elon Musk may still have that same idealism—the guy did, after all, fashion an entire eco-mod industry. But if Musk thinks technology is a salve for the natural human penchant of cliquish exclusion, he’s better off redesigning the grotesque Cybertruck into something more elegant, and less like a four-year-old’s Lego creation.
Then again, Musk is promising indiscriminate amnesty for all suspended Twitter accounts. If you thought Twitter was a headless turkey pen before, it’s about to get a lot stupider. But that’s always what democracy really actually looks like, right?
Free all the birds, Elon! Make Twitter into a real Thanksgiving gathering, racist uncle and communist cousin arguing endlessly in 280-characters. It may not produce “brotherly affection” but at least we’ll be entertained.