First Children in the Twitter Age

Creative Commons photo by Jason Howie

Considering his penchant for saying exactly what was on his mind, one can only imagine what President Theodore Roosevelt would have done with Twitter.

If you think Donald Trump knows how to throw shade on social media, try this Teddy-ism on for size:

“When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty.’”

One of the lesser known pearls of wisdom from the first president of the 20th Century dealt with calls for him to reign in his willful firstborn, Alice.

“I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

This quote shows us that worrying about the actions of the president’s children and how such antics will blowback on the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not a new dilemma.

In recent years, presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama worked hard to keep their children out of the spotlight during their White House years. While Clinton was mostly successful in this noble venture, Bush and Obama were not always so fortunate. Then again, there was no Snapchat back in Chelsea’s day.

Of course, the earlier indiscretions of Barbara and Jenna Bush seem not to have set them on a path of adult delinquency, and no doubt Barack and Michelle Obama will keep help Sasha and Malia keep a level head on their shoulders.

Yet in the Trump era, where social media is ubiquitous (even Carrie Fisher’s dog has a Twitter handle), the division between private and public continues to shrink.

And while there was a quite legitimate story about Melania and Barron not moving to the White House until six months into Trump’s administration, the fight over whether their son might be on the Autism spectrum was both very public and very sad.

With the older children, it is a different story. Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric are grown adults who have chosen the spotlight by working with the campaign. Ivanka and Eric Kushner have taken it a step further by signing on for unpaid, but very prominent, roles in the Administration.

Social media seems somewhat fickle in its treatment of Ivanka’s style. She is lambasted for the timing of her January tweet of her and Jared all dressed up, but at the end of the year, the media was all aglow regarding the stylish threads worn by her and her step-mom.

People took some understandable jabs at the silly video she and younger sister Tiffany recently posted, but the uproar about the Confederate flag well in the background of an otherwise adorable photo of her husband and son on a fishing trip appears, at first glance, a bit ridiculous. Donald Trump’s provocative use of social media has prompted his opponents to respond in kind.

The biggest problem with all this breathless coverage is that it fails to take into account that while everyone is obsessing about what the kids are doing, serious analysis of the president’s approach on policy matters like climate change, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan tend to get ignored.

And, while Teddy Roosevelt likely would have challenged someone to a duel if they were half as mean about his kids as some of the trolls on both sides have been in the last 15—20 years or so, he had no compunction about presidents needing to be willing to take it on the chin for their own actions.

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”



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