Is there Genius and Power in Covfefe?

Here’s a bold claim: President Trump’s “covfefe” tweet was a genius move that is a very powerful demonstration of his ability to persuade. I know, I know—it sounds crazy. But hear me out; what do you have to lose? Consider this a whimsical thought experiment to counter the ill effects of consuming too much of the fake news out there.

The case for the genius and power of covfefe begins with the question of whether the tweet might be  intentional. Recent revelations―that “covfefe” might actually be a phonetic spelling of an Arabic word meaning “I will stand up” (spelled “c-o-v f-e-‘-f-e” if you use Google Translate)―suggest it might be. Of course, Arabic and English do not share a common alphabet and Arabic has many dialects, so there is a high probability of a bad translation either way.

Skeptics (and fierce anti-Trumpers) will argue that no Arabic speaker would say this strictly translates, and this may be true. But that is hardly relevant. If Trump is signaling, it probably is not to Arabic speakers writ large, in which case a version translatable by Google is sufficient even if intellectuals sneer at the linguistic prowess of “stupid” Trump supporters.

The fact remains:  Either it was intentional or it was an intensely strange and coincidental mistake.

The common interpretation appears to be that Trump, whether because of  incompetence, exhaustion, or ill-health, was trying to type the word coverage when he wrote covfefe. Even if you don’t assume Trump is a moron, this is possible as it was an early morning tweet and Trump is in his seventies. But you would have to believe that Trump missed a major typo and then tweeted an incomplete and incoherent message while passing out for some reason. And what was supposed to come after coverage? “Despite the constant media coverage…” is hardly a complete thought. He has had minor typos in his tweets in the past, but I am not aware of a major typo or an incomplete tweet like this since he revolutionized presidential communications using Twitter on the campaign trail and while in office.

The other possibility is that President Trump was writing “despite the negative press I will stand up” by using what he understood to be an Arabic phrase. He did just return from the Arab world, and it is possible that someone there taught him this word to encourage him to stand strong. Or perhaps someone said “I will stand up” to Trump in response to his speech in Saudi Arabia, in which he said:

If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing—then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God….America is prepared to stand with you — in pursuit of shared interests and common security…That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians. 

That he learned it incorrectly or does not understand how properly to translate it into English is still very possible—much is lost in Arabic to English translations. But wherever or however he learned the Arabic word (if, indeed, he did) the resulting tweet is far more coherent than it would be if covfefe was just a misspelling of coverage.

So which is more probable? What is the likelihood that Trump failed to finish his thought and made a major typo that just happens to 1) be so close to a translatable Arabic phrase so soon on the heels of a trip to the Arab world, 2) have meaning in the context, 3) make a useful point, and 4) be in a strategically useful language in which to communicate? Is it more probable than the idea that Trump is being a show man, innovative communicator, and intentional user of Twitter?

Both seem possible, but the latter explanation seems more likely to this observer. If you have Trump Derangement Syndrome and you’ve read this far, you will probably want to disembark from my “crazy train” at this point.

But if you are willing to consider that the tweet may be intentional, you probably want to know why the president might be doing all of this. This question was posed by Jonah Goldberg in a sneering article: “[I]it may all be trolling, but what on Earth does that get the president?” Now, if one has TDS as Goldberg does, it is hard to even get as far as thinking that it might have been intentional, so we should give him some credit.

Yet for TDS sufferers, it is still impossible, apparently, to get past the idea that such tweeting could rise above vulgar trolling (even despite how much such people are inclined to praise anti-trump trolling). Funny how that works.

The anti-Trump trolling the “covfefe” tweet elicited may be where we find the real answer to Goldberg’s larger question: Why would the President use a strange Arabic phrase to communicate something when so many people obviously don’t get it?

Consider this: In creating a vague message that can play to many different confirmation biases, Trump and Trump supporters can learn about people from the way they respond. Additionally, the response elicited from people with TDS reminds people who like Trump why it is important to stay involved.

If you hate Trump but you are willing to hide your disdain and pretend to like him for your own ends, you probably dismissed the tweet as mere stupidity or an accident. You certainly did not give it much thought, and you almost assuredly laugh at people who did. This may reveal your true bias, or it may simply indicate that you are not thinking much anymore.

align=”right” In short, creating a vague message using a new word he just learned allows him and others in his camp to separate people by bias and thinking. It also may be a way to continue a campaign tactic of  motivating people by showing them how much they are hated by the establishment and how little the establishment thinks of their ability to govern themselves.

If you neither love nor hate Trump but are willing to wait and see, you might have laughed at the tweet. But if provided with a thoughtful investigation, you might consider it. And you may, in the end, still reject the idea that it was anything but a mistake. But the listening and thinking part is important. This signals to people that you are still a thinking person. You might even move toward Trump’s side of things after seeing the hate filled responses from those with TDS.

Finally, if you like Trump you probably gave him the benefit of the doubt right off the bat and tried to think through what was going on. Knowing now what covfefe might mean, you probably like it and maybe even use it, perhaps as a hashtag. Doing so serves as a signal to other people who like Trump. This can be motivating since secret messages and symbols tend to unite people and inspire them. And as said earlier, the prolific response from unthinking, hate-filled masses on the other side probably inspires you to―*ahem*―stand up yourself.

In short, creating a vague message using a new word he just learned allows him and others in his camp to separate people by bias and thinking. It also may be a way to continue a campaign tactic of  motivating people by showing them how much they are hated by the establishment and how little the establishment thinks of their ability to govern themselves.

If this is the case, some might lament that he is dividing us and this is poor statesmanship. But if his considered assessment at this point is that there is no uniting us―which is not an insane conclusion given the many months of vitriol on the Left and sneering contempt on the Right—then what is he supposed to do? At that point, winning elections is the only way to pursue the common good.

Or maybe Trump was just signaling to the person who taught him the word back in the Middle East. Perhaps he was continuing his strategic messaging to people in the Middle East that began in his speech. Maybe the tweet was originally meant for one of these two geopolitical purposes, but upon seeing the reaction, Trump adapted and decided to use it in a new way. His follow on tweet telling us to enjoy figuring out what it means and Sean Spicer’s cryptic statement to the press suggest this might be the case.

If true, it explains why Trump has left it a mystery and it may be why he took the tweet down or used a bad translation to start with. The ambiguity of it all, which exists no matter what I say here so long as Trump himself does not reveal his intentions, perpetuates the usefulness of covfefe. Those who believe have only faith to go on, so covfefe becomes a symbol of faith. Those who scoff have only bias to go on, and so scoffing signals bias. And the longer it persists, the stronger the symbol becomes and the more motivating the scoffers’ condescension is to those Trump needs to mobilize.

align=”left” Others may laugh at all of this and try to shame those who consider it. But as for me, covfefe.

If and when it becomes expedient for Trump to reveal what he meant by covfefe, the tweet and covfefe will be useful in a different way. At that point, those who were so certain Trump is stupid will have egg on their faces. It won’t change much for them, for haters are going to hate. And they may not believe Trump, even then. But I imagine it will provide a surge of inspiration to those who have been loyal to him. And then covfefe, or “I will stand up,” will be a rallying cry for those who support Trump and a bitter pill for those who oppose him.

None of this would be true if Trump had simply tweeted “despite the constant negative press I will stand up” in English, for it would have been ignored and forgotten. So if all of this true, then there is a certain genius in the tweet and it might prove to be very powerful. It also might reflect that Trump realizes that we are still very much in a bare knuckle, no-holds-barred brawl and some spiritedness is necessary to keep on winning. Now is no time to rest on one’s laurels or lean on outdated ways that only ever apply to one side in the struggle.

And if not, then the tweet itself has already played out Trump’s own words. It has elicited a great deal of negative press coverage. And Trump has stood up regardless. Others may laugh at all of this and try to shame those who consider it. But as for me, covfefe.


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About David Danford

David Danford is a Major in the United States Army and a graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He and his wife live in Fort Montgomery, New York, with their four sons. The views expressed in this article are an unofficial expression of opinion; they are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. Government.