In a wide-ranging speech on Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Paul Ryan warned interns to be civil on Twitter, while managing to not bring up the president's name once. And despite the fact that his specific frustrations line up directly with Trump's behavior on Twitter, Ryan kept the conversation general without steering it towards the Oval Office.
Speaking to hundreds of interns in a Capitol auditorium, according to The Hill, Ryan said, "Social media ... is an industry where you can make money feeding fear and resentment. We are caught in this paradox where we are more connected than ever, but we could not feel more disconnected or more alienated.”
He continued, "Civility is a civic imperative. A healthy discourse allows us to navigate our disagreements in the search for common ground. To accept good ideas, even if our side didn’t come up with them. At this point, we have reduced our debates to a stream of hot takes and tweets.”
Though this would have been an opportune moment for the House Speaker to acknowledge Trump's habit of streaming out his own "hot takes" on Twitter on a daily basis, Ryan instead took the time to explain to the students why he chooses to respond to critics with kindness via his own social media platforms.
Ryan explained, “I know that snark sells, but it doesn’t stick. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t unite people around a bigger idea or a greater cause."
He also told the students a story about a piece of advice he received when he was first elected to Congress at 28 years old, by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. “He told me that what he loved about the House is how it is a genuine meritocracy. You get ahead based on the power of your ideas and your ability to make a persuasive case for them. These days, we don’t even really set out to persuade anymore. We just hit each over the head until the music stops."
When an intern from Colorado reportedly asked Ryan how he manages to "be strong" in the face of online insults, Ryan said, “I don’t even pay attention to it."
Then he gave some advice, suggesting that interns think about this before they fire back to someone online: “Just think about what you’re doing to kind of poison the well of society, think about what you’re doing to try and just degrade the tone of our debate.”
Ryan has long been criticized for his silence on several of Trump's behaviors. However, that doesn't mean he hasn't acknowledged Trump at all. Rather, many critics believe that he hasn't given enough weight to the severity of Trump's actions, whether on Twitter or in person. Just a day prior, when Ryan was asked what he thought of Trump's threats to revoke the security clearances for several Obama-era officials, Ryan simply said, "I think he's trolling people, honestly."
Though Ryan was extremely outspoken in his criticisms of Trump during the 2016 election, he's "pulled back from any public condemnation in the past 18 months," Washington Post writer Paul Kane notes.
Upon making his decision to retire as Speaker at the end of the year, Ryan was asked if Trump had made his job more difficult, or has impacted his decision to withdraw from politics. To CBS, Ryan said, "Obviously we've had our differences and we've disagreed privately and publicly but I really do believe I've been doing things in the best interest of the country."
He added, "I've always found, especially with my relationship with the president, we have very good, very candid dialogue, and I find it's better to talk to the president instead of talk about the president on the TV and on media. That may score points, that may make people happy but I don't see how that gets anything done."