Friday January 19, 2018

Holy covfefe! President Trump's year in tweets

The Twitter timeline of U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on June 29, 2017.

The Twitter timeline of U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on June 29, 2017. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Listen 11:39

On the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration, it's fair to say that his presidency is unlike any other. And that includes the way he communicates.

He's lived up to his vow to be the social media president, using Twitter as his megaphone to keep up the name-calling from his pre-presidential days.

He referred to North Korea's leader as "Little Rocket Man," former White House strategist Steve Bannon as "Sloppy Steve," and who could forget his frequent epithet for his former opponent, "Crooked Hillary"?

Aside from tweeting insults, Trump has also used Twitter for major policy announcements, such as the surprise announcement back in July proclaiming that transgender individuals would not be permitted to serve in the U.S. military. (That move that has not been enforced: the Pentagon announced in December it would allow transgender people to enlist in the military as of Jan. 1 despite Trump's opposition.)

And, of course, there are the self-aggrandizing tweets, such as Trump's recent insistence that he is a "stable genius."

Day 6 contributors — and avid tweeters — Upworthy senior staff writer Parker Molloy and The New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer joined host Brent Bambury to look back on Trump's year on Twitter.

    

      

'Dominance politics'

Molloy says Trump's Nov. 24 tweet about supposedly passing on Time magazine's Person of the Year honour is one that best represents his presidency.

"It just shows him for the insecure, egotistical man that he is, because almost certainly Time did not call him to say that he was probably going [to be Person of the Year]," she notes. "That was clearly made up, and Time responded to it, saying the president is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year.

"So I think he just has this need to win. I remember seeing that and it was one of those moments where I was like, 'I can't even be mad.'"

     

     

Heer's pick for Trump's most telling tweet was the viral "nuclear button" message aimed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a frequent target.

"Instead of yelling at his TV, he has Twitter — although he does in fact control the nuclear button, which is what turns this from comedy into tragedy." - New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer

"My tweet not surprisingly also is an example of him trying to show dominance politics," Heer says. "First of all, I think Trump's genius is always to turn subtext into text. There's always an aspect of foreign policy that's macho. But him putting it out there was a very explicit phallic metaphor about the size of his nuclear button."

As with many of Trump's tweets, it's often hard to tell exactly who the audience is meant to be.

"Well, in this case — as in many other cases — what he's actually responding to is Fox News," Heer points out. "We know that 15 minutes before he made this tweet, Fox had quoted the North Korean leader to that effect. So I think one way to understand his tweets is like this cognitively degrading older gentleman who likes to yell at his TV. But instead of yelling at his TV, he has Twitter — although he does in fact control the nuclear button, which is what turns this from comedy into tragedy."

    

    

Aside from "Little Rocket Man," Trump's Twitter feed is full of personal vendettas against other targets — everyone from political figures such as London mayor Sadiq Khan to professional athletes like NBA player Steph Curry and several reporters and other members of the media, including favourite "fake news" targets CNN and the New York Times.

"It's really been interesting to see all of the bizarre responses he's had to regular people, and when he's called for people to be fired," Molloy says. "I think that has been one of the most alarming aspects here, where he called for Brian Ross from ABC to be fired. He called for Jemele Hill to be fired from ESPN. I hate saying, 'this is not normal,' but it's not normal and it's not OK."

"[Trump goes after] a lot of people who are in the media, but beyond that, it seems to me [he targets] a lot of people of colour, a lot of women," she adds. "He tends to go after black athletes a lot — when you take all of that and you combine that with his other comments about race, it clearly fits a pattern that is very Donald Trump."

    

      

Entertainer-in-chief

Trump's most retweeted tweet from the past year highlighted one of his regular targets, CNN, with an altered video of Trump at a wrestling event punching an opponent with the news outlet's logo superimposed on his head.

"He and his followers want him to be an entertainment personality — they want him to be a wrestler. And it also speaks to just the amount of television he watches. I won't say he'll go down as the greatest president in American history, but he'll go down as one of the leading TV critics in American history," Heer quips. "Look, I don't think there's ever been a TV critic that has had the influence or at least as wide a popularity as Donald Trump."

"He knows he doesn't actually lose much when he has his totally off-the-wall tweets like that." - Upworthy writer Parker Molloy

Trump is clearly aware tweets like those attacking CNN and other media outlets play directly to his base, Molloy says.

"That's totally his 4chan, Reddit, internet troll kind of stuff," she explains. "They love that stuff — they eat it up. Every once in a while, you'll hear some sort of interview with a Trump supporter where they'll say, 'I wish he would stop tweeting, but I'm still going to vote for him.' So he knows he doesn't actually lose much when he has his totally off-the-wall tweets like that."

As politically engaged commentators with widespread Twitter followings, both Molloy and Heer often find themselves screen-capping or responding to Trump's tweets — something that leaves both writers conflicted.

"I feel like everybody is so polarized already — I don't think very many people are going to change their mind about Donald Trump," Heer points out. "I do think that there is one worrisome aspect, which is that there are two Trump presidencies — there's a kind of clown show that is Donald Trump, and then there is the set of policies that are being enacted by his cabinet.

"I feel like paying too much attention to the clown show [is a distraction]. I feel there's not enough focus on policy issues. And I think that's sort of shifted — I think early on in the presidency, I think people were very good about resisting policy. We saw massive protests going out against the immigration policy, against health care, and I sort of feel like right now people have gone back to focusing on Trump a little bit too much, whereas it really should be on what his government is doing."

    

     

'Covefe' conundrum

It's hard not to fixate on Trump's Twitter feed given how often he fires off tweets — and at times, the fascination comes from trying to decode what exactly the president is trying to say, as was the case with his infamous "covfefe" tweet last May. 

"I think that tweet is is another one that really sticks with me. Not in that it's important in any way, but in the fact that he sent Sean Spicer out there the next day to pretend that he meant something by it, and that is totally bonkers," Molloy says. 

"I would say that he probably was trying to write 'despite the press coverage,' but then he probably fell asleep or somehow left the tweet aside — whatever happened, I don't think that's quite the issue," Heer adds. "It's more that he can't apologize, he can't admit mistakes, and he's willing to humiliate the people around him to keep up this facade.

"The emperor has no clothes, except 70 per cent of the population are saying, 'He has no clothes,' and there's 30 per cent of the population that's committed to believing that he's wearing the most lovely, lavish outfit that any emperor ever did. So it's a very strange situation."

     


To hear the full segment with Jeet Heer and Parker Molloy, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.