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Social media has only held sway over three presidents in American history, and, in that time, it has reshaped the political landscape. Presidents have risen and fallen thanks to the internet's influence. Information and misinformation have reached countless ears. Entire social movements have been born on the internet, and reached the White House to influence policy—or resist policy that can harm countless people.
The prevalence of social media is so great that we often forget that the world turned without it for billions of years. Politics ran without the input of the internet or Twitter or Facebook. Many figures rose to prominence and influenced the American landscape for better or worse, but, if the internet and social media existed during their lives, they probably would have never been able to do everything they managed to do.
Thomas Jefferson—Rapist and Hypocrite
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the Democratic-Republic Party. He remains one of the most important figures in American history.
In a world where everything is recorded, where everything is micro analyzed, Jefferson's political views would have destroyed him. One of Jefferson's great historical decisions as President was the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, which vastly expanded the American territory.
Of course, as someone who believed in a very strict adherence to the Constitution, this came as a surprise even in his own day. After all, nowhere in the Constitution does it say you can conquer more territory for the country, so, therefore, Jefferson's own political views contradicted his decision.
He justified it by stating that the purchase was not conquest but rather the product of a treaty, which the United States was allowed to enter.
But in a world where flip-flopping opinions are preserved for all time, this would have become the biggest scandal on the internet.
Also, he raped his slaves and had children with them.
At the time, slaves were seen as property, and, thus, in a legal sense, having sex with one was as offensive to their sensibilities as masturbating into your blanket. However, for a man who spent so much time talking about how all men are "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights," he sure didn't ask his enslaved human beings if they wanted to have sex with him, bare his children, and give birth to his seed.
Nowadays, if a politician misspeaks, that might set off racial conflict, in part because the issue has become so sensitive due to people not taking into account the rights of people of color. Literally raping a human being, and justifying it as saying, "Well, it's a slave," would be truly nightmarish.
And don't say that the slave consented. By her role in the situation, she had no consent to give. She was owned by another man, which meant that she had to follow Jefferson's desires, or else she'd be beaten and whipped. So you can add abuser to the list, too.
Andrew Jackson—Proto-Donald Trump
Social media loves President Trump, don't they?
Imagine if the internet existed during Andrew Jackson's presidency.
Andrew Jackson was already a very unpopular president. Destroying the national bank, Trail of Tears... among numerous other smaller decisions that proved very unpopular with the American people.
But, that being said, yes, Andrew Jackson was already hated without social media. Imagine what would have happened if social media had been around.
I figure that Andrew Jackson, who perhaps is among the worst Presidents in American history, would be treated the same way that Donald Trump is currently treated. The parallels are already quite apparent. Trump's Muslim ban and Dakota Pipeline decisions bare an uncanny resemblance to the Trail of Tears. Who knows? If social media did exist, perhaps large scale protests could have been organized to prevent the tragedy.
Or, perhaps, like with Trump, a group of extreme racists would've emerged from the woodwork to argue for Jackson's Trail of Tears, thus establishing actual genocide as part of the alt-right's political agenda.
Abraham Lincoln—Too Radical, or Not Radical Enough
Abraham Lincoln is undoubtedly one of the greatest American presidents to ever live. He helped unify America at its most divided. He helped eradicate slavery. Most historians regard him as one of the most important presidents in history.
But, even at the time, people didn't like him.
Obviously, the Confederacy regarded Lincoln as a radical who seemed intent on eradicating a "State's Rights" to slavery. But there are countless other groups in the Union who regarded Lincoln as too soft. Now, while history has proven that these groups and their policies may not have been able to make sweeping changes to legislature, I can guarantee that, had social media existed, these groups would have pushed agendas that may not have actually helped the United States unify again.
Lincoln made several statements making it clear he prioritized the unification of the United States over freeing slavery. Imagine the field day social media would have with that.
FDR—Jesse Owens? Forget About Him
There's a line in The American President that sums up this article in a nutshell. "If there was a television in every house, the American People would not elect a man in a wheelchair."
And that was the 90s. Imagine 2017 and its Twitter-verse.
But that is hardly the biggest issue that Franklin Rosevelt would have to worry about. Nor, honestly, would his New Deal be the biggest thing to worry about in an environment where tons of people online think they know how the United States economy works.
No, Jesse Owens would be FDR's biggest issue.
Jesse Owens won the Olympic Gold in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Hitler himself shook Owens's hand to congratulate him on his victory. Hitler! Now, you know if Adolf Hitler is being more socially progressive than the United States president that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
Obviously, I am not saying that FDR not congratulating Jesse Owens on his four golden medals makes him as bad as Hitler. But I am saying that, to a social media environment that exaggerates everything, that might have brought Hitler more sympathy in the mid-30s in America among the African-American community.
And Hitler, just so you know, was popular in America at that time. There were Nazi Parties that celebrated Hitler in America that met in public. If social media existed, this would have caused the American Nazi groups to go crazy with excitement. And, at the eve of World War II, that is not something you want.
John F Kennedy—Serial Cheater and Political Assassin
JFK remains one of the most beloved presidents of all time, partially because it is hard to speak ill of a man who ended up being shot on live television. He has become almost a martyr for many Americans. The only Catholic President. A quotable speaker.
A serial adulterer.
JFK would not have as squeaky clean of a reputation if social media or paparazzi were up to the standards they are at today. It is well known that JFK had a lot of affairs over the course of his presidency, most notably with famous actress Marilyn Monroe. This is a man who told his brother on his wedding day "That just because you're married to your wife doesn't mean you have to stay loyal to her."
The Kennedy clan's adulterous ways would prove enough to ruin the "empire" they set up.
But it isn't just that.
The JFK Presidency has been noted for a lot of weird circumstances. This is a president who escalated conflicts with Cuba, organized the Bay of Pigs invasion without carrying through with the operation, and then, perhaps most disturbing of all, helped bring us into Vietnam. The assassination of the South Vietnamese President was carried out by Vietnamese nationalists, but, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we know that President Kennedy had a hand in the operation. He also had a hand in the events that would eventually lead to the escalation of the Vietnam War itself.
Consider how much controversy both President George W. Bush and President Obama earned with every single military decision they ever made. They didn't carry out covert operations to kill multiple dictators—oh, wait, George W. Bush did kill Iraq's Saddam Hussein. And look how much the internet loved him.
Ronald Reagan—Letting Millions Die
The AIDS epidemic is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies in American history. It took countless lives from the 80s to 90s, and, for so many years, no one understood the disease.
It was believed to be a disease spread among gay men, so there was a popular belief—and, quite frankly, disgusting—belief that AIDS was somehow divine punishment upon the LGBTQA+ community.
I am not saying that President Ronald Reagan believed that.
But I am saying he didn't help AIDS victims. At all.
Think about it. Flint, Michigan is still without water. That has almost reached memetic status by this point for how pathetic the situation over there is that the government refuses to acknowledge their situation. That is one town without clean water.
Consider how social media projects the stories of hate crimes throughout America, and how entire protests have sprung up after horrific injustices are brought to the public light. These are hundreds of people dying.
Now consider this: by the end of the 80s, over 100,000 cases of AIDS were reported. President Reagan, for five years of his presidency, said nothing. Today, if the President does not acknowledge a major catastrophe within the day it is first reported, social media will hound them. This has been true with George W Bush, with Obama, and especially with Trump.
Imagine what the internet would say to a president who turned a blind eye to a pandemic.