On the Sunday before Super Tuesday, Donald Trump did something that would have been a serious misstep for any other campaign, and yet it was lost in conversations about renounced, or un-renounced, KKK endorsements and Hillary Clinton’s rout of Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.
What happened was simple. Mr. Trump retweeted a quotation that had been tweeted at him a little after six in the morning.
The quotation in question certainly sounded like something The Donald would say: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” But there was a problem, and the twittersphere quickly figured it out. Italian fascist Benito Mussolini was the guy who first said it.
I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of messaging you want right after the former leader of the KKK endorses you.
During his appearance on “Meet the Press” only a few hours later, Chuck Todd asked the Republican presidential frontrunner about that tweet. “Mussolini was Mussolini,” Trump said. “What difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote. That’s probably why I have, between Facebook and Twitter, 14 million people when other people don’t.”
Asked if he wanted to be associated with a fascist, Trump said, “No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes.”
I think Chuck Todd missed an opportunity here. Instead of focusing on the message–a regrettable one for most sentient beings–Todd could have asked Trump about the dangers inherent in a would-be world leader who doesn’t see a pitfall until he’s crashed through it. And the fact here is that you would really have to be not looking at all for something like this to transpire.
It should be noted here that I’m not in the business of blaming the victim–quite the contrary–but I think in this instance, it is warranted. We’re not talking about a citizen being tricked into providing personal information. This wasn’t an instance of phishing–though it resembles one in so much as it relied on an unthinking, impulse click. The would-be POTUS must be held to a much higher standard than most of us, one that is in line with the zero-margin-for-error job at stake.
Even at the most cursory inspection, it was clear that @ilduco2016 was a parody account. Many of the tweets are downright silly (and famously attributed to Mussolini), such as “A nation of spaghetti eaters cannot restore Roman civilization!” Then there’s the fact that “Il Duce,” or “The Leader” in Italian, is a common name for Mussolini. But just in case that fact is lost on the casual observer, the account avatar featured a picture of Mussolini with Donald Trump hair plopped on top of it.
— ilduce2016 (@ilduce2016) February 28, 2016
Here is Mr. Trump’s retweet:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016
At least one news organization touted the elaborate set-up that tricked the GOP juggernaut, but there really wasn’t much to it. In fact, Gawker editor Alex Pareene was able to sum it up in a direct message to his colleague Ashley Feinberg: “a twitter account that tweets mussolini quotes but credited to trump, and just keep tweeting them AT trump until he eventually retweets one.”
While “elaborate” is a stretch by any measure, morning may have been a deliberate choice on their part if they discerned that Trump retweets more first thing in the morning. (There is no readily discernable pattern in the account’s 1900+ tweets.) It’s conceivable that at six in the morning, the presidential hopeful might, still groggy, have mistaken the dead fascist for a fellow traveller, and he was unconcerned about the details.
With the exception of Ashley Feinberg of Gawker (her email is right under her avatar), Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and U.S. Fascist Movement, the twelve people followed by @ilduco2016 were Trump and his people. That should have been enough information. Next there are the tweets. Another one read, “We have buried the putrid corpse of liberty.”
If Donald Trump saw all this and still retweeted that “interesting quote,” we should be even more worried.
I am not suggesting that this particular tweet gaffe rises to the level of Hillary Clinton’s email problem, which I discussed in a recent article. It should go without saying that there is a difference between the potential damage associated with someone sending an idiotic tweet, and a world leader more concerned with convenience or information control than information security.
That said, cybersecurity is a crucial issue to homeland security. It matters, and yet with the exception of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb trying (and mostly failing) to get some airtime for the subject during early debates, it has not been discussed much in this election.
Trump’s Mussolini-gate was misused as an opportunity to call the guy stupid or dangerous in a brown-shirt sort of way. The real issue is whether or not the American people can (or should) trust someone in the nation’s highest office who has demonstrated, time and time again, poor impulse control.