The former President creates a media frenzy over the release of digital trading cards, earning scorn from both progressives and his reputed allies, except no one can really say why any of this deserves such media attention. This is especially true when President Trump simultaneously released a new free speech platform which the same people claimed they were clamoring for and promptly ignored.
Last week, former President Donald Trump stunned and confused the political world with what he promised was a “major announcement.” The announcement itself was a little confusing from the start, a short video released on Wednesday featuring a comic book inspired image of Trump imagined as a superhero. Standing before Trump Tower, a figure far trimmer and more fit than the former President in real life had a “T” emblazoned on his chest and Superman-like lasers shooting from his eyes. The President noted in a voice over that we need a superhero. The overall tone of the message probably should’ve been a clue that this was not going going to be a serious policy proposal, especially a scant ten days before Christmas, but as with anything related to President Trump, the pundit class on both sides couldn’t resist indulging their obsession and speculation was rampant. Ed Morrissey, an establishment conservative writing for HotAir.com, shared his impressions. “Before we get to the possibilities of Trump’s major announcement, let’s first pose this question: to whom is this message intended to appeal? Even for comic-book imagery, it’s childish. If twelve-year-olds had the vote, this might get them interested.” Mr. Morrissey continued to opine about the nature of the announcement. Was Trump coming back to Twitter? Has he picked a running mate? Is he going to campaign to become the next GOP Speaker of the House? Something else entirely? Regardless, Mr. Morrissey was also clear that he saw this as a desperate attempt to resuscitate his supposedly flagging presidential campaign, noting “It looks more like Trump needs a superhero rather than has his own superpowers” based on polling from Quinnipiac University which found the former President’s favorability dropping to the lowest level since 2015. Perhaps needless to say, it never occurred to Mr. Morrissey or others that the fun nature of the announcement, the comic book imagery, the reference to superheroes, or the simple fact that the first primary remains 13 months away and there is no other candidate in the race, suggested the former President had another sort of announcement in mind. Personally, I admit to being a little confused and intrigued myself, but rather than waste time in endless speculation and post articles seemingly designed to draw clicks based on the former President’s massive media footprint, I was content to wait and watch without expending an undue amount of energy on it.
In due course, the announcement came on Thursday: Donald Trump digital trading cards. Who knew? Using a technology known as Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), which use secure blockchain encryption to guarantee authenticity and prevent copying, the President authorized a site to sell comic book inspired cards based on his life and career. The website CollectTrumpCards.com had the details. “For the first time ever, collect your own rare digital collectible Trading Card by President Trump. These are just like baseball cards, but you collect them digitally, on your computer or phone. All you need is an email address and a credit card to start collecting 1, 10, 20 or 100. Instantly become part of a new league of collectors.” The cards were priced at $99 each. There were 45 in all, featuring a svelte Donald Trump as a cowboy, an astronaut, a race car driver, a superhero, and more. The program was also attached to a number of different prizes and sweepstakes; if you purchased all 45, you were guaranteed an in person dinner with Donald Trump himself. Interestingly, the sale of these cards was not affiliated with the 2024 Trump Presidential campaign, something clearly stated on the site. “NFT INT LLC is not owned, managed or controlled by Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization, CIC Digital LLC or any of their respective principals or affiliates. NFT INT LLC uses Donald J. Trump’s name, likeness and image under paid license from CIC Digital LLC, which license may be terminated or revoked according to its terms.” One can certainly debate whether or not the world truly needs Donald Trump trading cards. One might even opine that comic book versions of a former President are beneath the dignity of the office. One could even go so far as to consider the idea faintly ridiculous even if entirely harmless and, in my opinion at least, more than a little funny.
The media, on the other hand, chose to conduct a full fledged meltdown. Article after article covered the launch and the implications as if silly little digital trading cards were an issue of national importance. Clearly, this was something that required fair minded journalists and pundits to really take a stand. You will not be surprised to learn that much of the coverage, from both progressives and establishment conservatives, was highly critical. CNN opined that “Donald Trump’s NFT superhero trading cards timed the market all wrong.” MSNBC said the former President made “a fool of himself hawking weird imaginary trading cards.” The St. Louis Dispatch called it a “trading-card scam.” Variety called it “bizarre,” Kotaku, “the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.” Even those who are normally Trump allies inserted themselves into this obvious much ado about nothing, making it clear that the political class in America cannot accept anything done for non political reasons or even just for fun. “I can’t do this anymore,” former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon said on his WarRoom podcast, adding that anyone involved “ought to be fired today.” John Dennis, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, agreed. “I like Trump. This is not a good idea. Whoever advised Trump to sell NFT’s shouldn’t be fired. They should be exiled.” Fox News breaking-news editor Chris Pandolfo tweeted, “Sure, inflation is wrecking the economy, Russia and China are on the move, the culture war wages at home, but at least presidential candidate Donald Trump is offering voters Trump Digital Trading Cards they can buy for $99 each. Get your NFT today.” Daniel Bostic, an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” movement, noted in a tweet, “If this is the #MAJORANNOUNCEMENT it is embarrassing and a slap in the face to Trump’s base. People are struggling and losing their country. They’re begging for real action—not childish stunts like this.” Even the late night shows and Saturday Night Live felt the need to pile on, but two things happened during the feeding frenzy that might have been unexpected were this not President Trump we were talking about.
First, the trading cards sold out in less than 24 hours, generating over $4 million in revenue, further suggesting that the pundit class, even of the right leaning variety, remains completely clueless about what actual people find interesting. The value of each card has increased around four times the $99 sale price in the course of just a few days. “Despite being widely mocked online, former US president Donald Trump’s collection of digital trading cards have sold out in less than a day, netting US$4.5m in sales,” as The Guardian described it. Other sites put the number at over $5 million, and the cards at over six times face value. In total, some 45,000 cards were sold to slightly under 16,000 people, certainly a respectable haul despite the relentless mocking of the entire affair. Second, and far more importantly, the former President turned to conservative social media influencer, Jack Posobiec, to release his new plan to address free speech issues should he be successful in his third White House bid. Mr. Posobiec made this announcement on Twitter shortly after noon on the same day the digital trading cards were released. “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: I have obtained a copy of President Trump unveiling the major planks of his official Free Speech Policy Proposal. This is the first video drop in a series to come from his 2024 presidential campaign.”
In the video, the former President appears properly in a suit and tie delivering a detailed policy address that runs over six minutes. The video is lightly edited, but overall Trump appears calm, confident, and smooth delivering complex information without the verbal stumbles we have come to expect from President Joe Biden. It also happens to be a detailed, well-thought out and constructed piece of policy far, far superior to what any other Republican has proposed to advance their supposedly shared goal of protecting free speech. CNBC described it as “an aggressive and ambitious plan” that addresses “government agencies and employees, universities and tech companies” using a series of executive orders and new legislation. “The censorship cartel must be dismantled and destroyed and it must happen immediately,” President Trump explained. “When I’m president, this whole rotten system of censorship and information control will be ripped out of the system at large. There won’t be anything left.” The plan includes barring the federal government from collaborating with social media over speech that does not constitute a crime and firing all government employees that have done so. The Department of Justice would “investigate all parties involved in the new online censorship regime, which is absolutely destructive and terrible, and to aggressively prosecute any and all crimes identified.” “These include possible violations of federal civil rights law, campaign finance laws, federal election law, securities law and antitrust laws, the Hatch Act, and a host of other potential criminal civil regulatory and constitutional offenses,” the former President continued. The plan includes a ban on federal dollars to fund private or university-based programs to characterize and classify so-called misinformation. President Trump also called for new legislation to reform the Section 230 carve out of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from liability for their content, and new legislation for a Digital Bill of Rights that would provide clear guidelines for how a person’s information can be used online and what recourse they might take if they are targeted for speech.
To my knowledge, no Republican running for office or conservative policy wonk has proposed anything like it in scope or purpose (sadly, perhaps my little read site has been the only one to even attempt to tackle the issue). This remains the case even though almost every conservative has vocally denounced the nexus between social media and government made even more apparent by recent revelations in the Twitter Files. In other words, Republicans are in fundamental agreement that online censorship is a major issue and that claims of rampant “misinformation” are a means for primarily left-leaning groups to control the spread of ideas, but they have done a single, solitary thing about it. They have no plan. They have no plan to work on a plan. There are no votes scheduled in the new Congress. No legislation proposed, absolutely nothing. If Mr. Morrisey is any indication, they would rather complain about Donald Trump in general than fully engage with the new policy proposal, even when presented to them in a clear explainer video. Shortly after opining about the nature of Trump’s “major announcement,” Mr. Morrisey addressed the video. He devoted all of three sentences to the policy portion, an issue he himself described as “worthy and topical to boot.” The rest of the post is devoted to more attacks on the former President, lamenting that “the strategic fumble is unfortunate, as this actually addresses real issues in play rather than just Trump’s compulsion for self-promotion,” and then proceeding to malign the trading cards site. “The website design for CollectTrumpCards.com looks like something out of 2002 rather than 2022, with center-justified text of varying fonts, lots of underlines, and bad sales pitches…So the ‘major announcement’ from Trump and the campaign doesn’t actually have any connection to the campaign itself.”
If anyone out there still wonders why Donald Trump supporters pay no attention to the media, this episode, however small in the grand scheme of things, should serve as a helpful reminder. All of the hallmarks are on full display: Rampant, completely unfounded speculation followed by a collective freak out over what amounts to nothing at all. What really is the big deal about Trump digital trading cards except that they made it so? Indeed, the mainstream media finds itself in the odd position of attacking a program that sold out in less than 24 hours despite their jibes. In that case, how bad could it possibly have been? Throughout the freakout, the media claims to demand seriousness on policy and other important matters, but when they receive it the very same day, it’s largely dismissed or packaged along with the prior criticism. President Trump, of course, knows this himself and I find it difficult to believe the sure knowledge that whatever he says or does will be picked apart didn’t inform his decision making. For better or worse, the President is also clearly a believer in the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Here, he succeeded in getting the mainstream media to plaster the internet with images of him as a superhero while releasing his first major policy proposal of the campaign. It is difficult to see how that is a bad outcome this early in a long campaign, but time will necessarily tell. In the meantime, I would suggest everyone relax a little and enjoy the holiday season as Trump himself has surely done with this playful announcement – that is until the Select Committee on January 6th recommended criminal referrals yesterday, but that will have to be a topic for another post.