As someone who spent years doing public relations for Toys “R” Us, I’m always skeptical when I see children used in ways to promote a brand or sell products, or most especially in political ads. But what happened on the president’s Twitter feed last week went way, way beyond the pale. It was disgusting.
And why should we be surprised by the man who separated children from their parents and put them in cages at the border?
Donald Trump’s retweet of a doctored video of two little boys that originally showed love illustrated how twisted he is by using children as racist propaganda. It was repulsive. The clip, which Twitter initially removed and then flagged as “manipulated media,” used footage from a video that went viral last year of two toddlers — Maxwell, who is Black, and Finnegan, who is white — running down the sidewalk toward each other and then excitedly hugging.
The video Trump shared begins with footage of Maxwell running after Finnegan, is set to ominous music, and includes a fake CNN logo with a misspelled reading “Terrified todler runs from racist baby.”
Trump has hurt so many people in so many ways that all the pain he has caused rivals all his lies, but just imagine if your child or grandchild, or niece, nephew, or godchild — really, any child, for that matter — was used by the president of the United States to spread racist hate? How would you feel?
I reached out to Michael Cisneros. He and his husband are the parents of Maxwell, and I wondered how they felt when they first heard that the president had wickedly manipulated that touching, original video of their son and his beloved friend.
“We were hurt, saddened, and felt nauseous and wanted to vomit,” Cisneros said. “A video showing love, unity, and friendship that has inspired love and hope to millions was now doctored to further hate and racism. It was just heartbreaking to see.”
Cisneros added that regardless of the fact that one of the boys in the video was his, no child should be exploited to further political agendas. “The fact that they were our boys made it so much worse. We immediately took action. We will do whatever we can, whatever is needed, to protect our children from this or anything else that attempts to bring them harm.”
As a result of the incident, late Tuesday Twitter banned the creator, conservative pro-Trump meme maker Logan Cook, a.k.a. “Carpe Donktum,” for copyright infringement. And Wednesday, two law firms began drafting a lawsuit on behalf of Maxwell’s and Finnegan’s parents against Cook, President Trump, and the Donald J. Trump for President campaign.
“The fact that Twitter and Facebook disabled this fake video within 24 hours of President Trump and his campaign tweeting it, coupled with Twitter permanently banning Cook, is very strong evidence that a jury will likely find that all of these people broke the law by using this video as advertisement and political propaganda,” said attorney Ven Johnson, president and founder of Ven Johnson Law, one of the firms representing the families.
Alarmingly, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about the doctored propaganda video and said, “I think the president was making a satirical point that was quite funny if you go and actually watch the video.”
Funny? Just like the “kung flu.” Her answer to Trump’s despicable action sounds sadistic to me.
Frankly, that should have been the last straw for Twitter regarding Trump. He has wildly abused his account for much too long, causing severe pain to many, ruining reputations for lots, and erasing the truth with dark fiction. His thread is filled consistently with lies, misinformation, distortions, and diabolical diatribes, and it never, never ends. If any of us behaved this way, we'd be expelled unrepentantly from Twitter.
Unfortunately, he will continue to spew hate; however, on the flip side, his hate is overshadowed by love. Thousands upon thousands of positive messages, comments, and posts have descended upon the boys and their families in the days since the retweet of the doctored video.
“I am overwhelmed by the amount of love and hope that was shared to me by the thousands that reached out,” Cisneros explained. “The messages show us that people really do care, that they are tired of the racism, and of all the hate.
“They inspired us to fight harder to not only protect the original sentiment of the video but to take action against Trump and the creator so that this type of thing does not happen to other families. The abuse of power and the flat-out lies and misinformation that are spread need to stop now!”
Those are strong words from a strong father. And as a father, I asked Cisneros how he might explain this entire incident as well as all that’s happened this last month to Maxwell one day.
“It really breaks our hearts that we even have to think about these necessary conversations, as I’m sure it does with any parent of a black child,” he said. “No child should have to be taught that the people that are supposed to protect them are also the people that they should fear due to the color of their skin. It makes them feel less than, insecure, hurt, and I’m sure angry. It saddens me just saying these things to you. I fear for the time when we will have to start these talks with Maxwell.”
In the meantime, I asked the obvious question that has an obvious answer, but I asked anyway. Does Trump owe Cisneros, his husband, and Finnegan’s family an apology?
“Yes, but we all know he won’t. If he did, he wouldn’t mean it. Therefore, his apology would mean nothing to us,” Cisneros emphatically stated. “We know the damage that he has caused through his consistent messaging and actions; it would be an empty apology. Don’t waste your breath.”
Cisneros prefers that people remember the beauty of the original video and all the love that has come their way since that famous hug by the boys.
“I cannot tell you how thankful we are for all the messages of love we received from all over the world and in so many different languages,” he said. “The stories that people shared, the happiness it made them feel, the love they saw, and the hope that it inspired. It filled our hearts and souls with happiness and pride. That’s what people should focus on.”
John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.