On Wednesday morning, the former leader of the Free World proclaimed to the globe his latest priority: suing Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and Twitter for banning him from their platforms after he used social media to spread big lies about the 2020 election. In typical Trumpian fashion, the cases were amateurishly cobbled together, with arguments and contentions that legal experts immediately derided. In the Facebook suit, Trump’s lawyers—one of whom included his home address on the filing that was quickly posted on the Internet—essentially claim that the company is a de facto government entity. (It is not.) And they acknowledge Trump agreed to Facebook’s restrictions when he signed up as a user. Oops. But they gripe he had no choice but to accept the company’s limits. So much for the conservative worship of corporate privilege in a private market.
Trump has a long history of both threatening suits that never materialize and filing bogus cases that go nowhere. As Philip Bump in the Washington Post notes,
Over the past 30 years, Trump, his political campaigns and the Trump Organization have filed more than 4,000 lawsuits, most of them related to his business activity before seeking office. In recent years, though, we have also seen how often he has liked to simply threaten a lawsuit, usually with the goal of silencing a critic. At times, even that threat has been effective. Usually, though, it has simply been bluster.
Trump certainly isn’t going to silence Facebook, Google, or Twitter with his legal actions. But he is serving the paranoia of his political base, which holds as an article of faith that Big Tech is biased against conservatives. There is no evidence of such a tilt. (The posts of Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and other far-right blowhards are often the most widely dispersed material on Facebook.) But Trump and the Trump wannabes (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others) have turned Big Tech into a convenient foil that plays well with grievance-stuffed GOP voters.
Trump’s suit against Facebook is a twofer for the red-meat crowd. It suggests that Mark Zuckerberg was in cahoots with—wait for it—Dr. Anthony Fauci. Together, it alleges, these two cooked up something of a conspiracy to silence Trump regarding COVID-19. Actually, Zuckerberg and Fauci emailed about making sure Facebook would not be a source of coronavirus disinformation. Unfortunately for Trump, if a social media company wanted to impede COVID disinformation, that would mean limiting his statements. But in this lawsuit, Zuckerberg and Fauci are dark forces who are more powerful than the president of the United States and able to shut him down. It’s surprising that the lawsuit leaves out George Soros.
Other than ginning up the Big Lie believers, there is another strong reason for Trump to proceed with this case: money. Lots of money. No sooner had Trump’s lawyers filed when his grift-machine kicked into action. A text message was sent to Trump supporters hitting them up for donations. “President Trump is filing a LAWSUIT against Facebook and Twitter for UNFAIR CENSORSHIP!” it proclaimed. It urged the recipients to send in a donation within “the NEXT HOUR” to qualify for a 500 percent match. (These matches, often ballyhooed in fundraising emails and texts, are basically a con.) And this solicitation promised that donors would end up on a list that “President Trump sees.” Really? Who believes Trump sits there and pores over the names of the folks who send him small donations of five or ten bucks?
But those small devotions add up. A lot. In the months after the November election, Trump collected about $100 million in such contributions. His pitch then was hysterical: I was robbed. He repeatedly pushed the false claim that the election had been stolen from him. And his supporters embraced his propaganda. A recent poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans do not accept Joe Biden’s victory as legitimate. And from these people Trump sucked up millions.
How can you top being overthrown in a political coup mounted by evil Democrats, the Chinese, Soros, Bill Gates, Antifa, BLM, the media, and others? Well, you can say that you’re being censored by these nefarious tech firms and prevented from winning back your rightful position in the White House. (The lawsuit notes that Trump is a “potential” 2024 candidate.) This undoubtedly will lead to—ca-ching!—more moolah from the pro-Trump mob. If his lawyers were smart, they would ask for a percentage of the take.
In objective terms, Trump’s lawsuits look weak. But this is not about him winning in a federal court. By challenging Facebook, Google, and Twitter this way, he achieves two key goals: he keeps the conspiratorial demagoguery flowing and he keeps the cash pouring in. This case isn’t about justice. It’s about fear and money—the two things that make Trump’s world go around.