Stop talking about crowd size

I saw this image all over my timeline during the inauguration.

Even the National Park Service retweeted it (possibly by mistake). It was tweeted three times by the New York Times alone, racking up more than 22,000 retweets for the paper — not counting any other outlet’s tweets.

I get it. I do. I understand the temptation to the contrast in the crowds between Obama in 2009 and Trump in 2017.

For someone obsessed with ratings and who bragged about the crowd sizes at his rallies, this was vindication that he’s not as popular as he says he is. It felt like these images were putting Trump in his place a little. Comeuppance.

I’m not immune to that sentiment. But there’s a few problems with that attitude.

First, it’s not really fair to compare the two inaugurations.

Barack Obama’s election was historic as the first African-American president, and people flocked to his election to witness history. That alone had to increase numbers. Beyond that, D.C. is predominantly a Democratic stronghold, and other liberal east coast areas are a train ride or short drive away. Trump, by contrast, drew much of his support from farther flung areas of the country, which are harder to make it to D.C.

I saw similar sentiment about Trump’s inauguration ratings being down.

Again, it’s not fair to compare the two. I remember being huddled in front of a single TV in the office to watch Obama in 2009. This week, you could watch it stream on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook Live or any other number of places. (I didn’t watch — I went for a run instead, but I doubt that alone accounted for the ratings dip.)

Of course TV numbers are going to be down. I suspect they’ll be down again in 2020, regardless of who is elected, when we’ll all be watching in VR.

And let’s consider the possibility that from Donald Trump’s perspective it really did look like a huge crowd, like yet another one of his rallies?

This did not get as many retweets.

Beyond that, this is yet another opportunity for Trump to blame the media for being “unfair” or “dishonest,” and deflect from what else is going on in his administration.

It’s a distraction.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama said that “politics is a battle of ideas.” But “without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point”… “then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.”

Do we really want to make this battle of ideas into nothing more than a debate over who draws the bigger crowd?

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