I am about to do something all who know me will consider nearly impossible: Admit I was wrong. (Please do not alert my husband or children to this egregious departure from my normal behavior. They might worry.)
Yes, I was one of those Trump voters who thought the man would tone down his approach after his inauguration. I didn’t think Trump would suddenly transform into a curious policy wonk or a masseur of fragile media egos or a even smooth-talking statesman. In fact, his raw, spontaneous style—so inimical and infuriating to the smug political aristocracy—was one of the reasons I voted for him.
But I did think he would stop tweeting. Maybe not entirely. I hoped he would reserve social media for useful purposes, such as hyping good economic news or consoling the nation after a tragedy. Congratulating World Series champs and Masters’ winners. Stuff like that.
I didn’t think the leader of the free world would continue to use the medium to unleash petulant, impulsive rants—formatted in the grammatical style of a hormonal cheerleader—to provoke his enemies and entertain his base. I didn’t think he would troll tyrants or mock television hosts about plastic surgery. I didn’t anticipate he would demean elected officials of his own party, no matter how much they deserved it. As of this morning, the president has already tweeted about author Michael Wolff, ABC newsman Brian Ross, the black unemployment rate, and referred to himself as a “very stable genius.”
So, as the Fonz used to say, I was wrrrr…. (clears throat) I was WRRRRR….
I mean, I was the opposite of right.
While I wish the president might better control his Twitter finger, a stampede of Trump foes wants him totally banned from the platform entirely. Following his January 2 tweet taunting the size of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear button, the anti-Trump mob again appealed for Twitter to suspend the president’s account. Protesters projected a message onto Twitter’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco—”@jack is #complicit—demanding Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s resignation if he didn’t ban Trump.
CNN’s senior media correspondent, the perpetually-peeved Brian Stelter, told Anderson Cooper that he asked a Twitter spokesman if Trump’s tweet “violates Twitter’s terms of service, making this kind of threat towards North Korea.” Stelter told Cooper, “I think they’re trying to decide if this kind of tweet, referring to a nuclear button that he knows how to use and he knows how it works, whether it actually is a violation of the terms of service because it may threaten violence.” (Stelter is that geeky neighborhood kid who called the police to break up your beer bashes in high school because he wasn’t invited.)
Well, sad trombone for Stelter. On Friday afternoon, Twitter released a statement: “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” (The statement also shows that Twitter needs to find a capable in-house writer.)
Twitter knows that canceling, or even temporarily suspending, the president’s account would result in the company’s certain death. Trump is the Greatest Show on Social Media’s Earth; what would Twitter’s algorithms look like without him? Who would retweet Chelsea Handler or Bill Kristol or Ben Rhodes if not for Trump?
I know people who love Trump’s tweets and want him to keep on, but a majority of folks lean more my way. In a poll conducted over the holidays, 59 percent of the respondents said Trump’s use of Twitter is “inappropriate,” including 50 percent of independents and 34 percent of Republicans. But his base mostly approves; 57 percent of Trump voters said his Twitter use is appropriate.
And, I must admit, the way his tweets infuriate the other side is truly something to behold. I find myself laughing despite my better judgment, knowing that a nonsensical, name-calling, or braggadocious tweet will send the anti-Trump lemmings squawking as they fall over the cliff. The schadenfreude is too delicious. I also acknowledge that no other president has ever come under this kind of collective assault from the news media, his political opponents (including some from his own party), the celebrity caste, and the previous administration—which would make even the most “very-stable-genius” a little cray-cray. Twitter gives Trump a chance to respond and fight back, so, to that end, I see its value and necessity.
So it may be that I am wrrr-wrr- (opposite of right) again, but I can’t help thinking that Trump creates his own problems at times by violating a key tenet of communications strategy: Don’t step on your own message. On Friday, Trump tweeted this:
The Fake News Media barely mentions the fact that the Stock Market just hit another New Record and that business in the U.S. is booming…but the people know! Can you imagine if “O” was president and had these numbers – would be biggest story on earth! Dow now over 25,000.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2018
A media-savvy guy like Trump knows that when you give reporters snacks to feed the media beast, they will happily ignore the main course. There’s plenty of blame to go around on that front, starting with the White House.
Is there a happy medium for this medium? For what it’s worth, here is my unsolicited advice to the president for future Twitter use:
Do use Twitter to:
- Promote good news: Stock market gains, low unemployment rates, positive economic figures, deregulatory success, conservative judicial appointments. These achievements will be enough in themselves to drive the other side crazy, but tweeting them will pack a greater punch.
- Help the GOP: This year will be a sh*tshow. Make sure you don’t step on the electoral chances of Republicans who are running for the House and Senate because there is zero room for error. You have given the GOP a surprisingly strong policy agenda to run on; don’t let an ill-advised tweet get in the way of that.
- Comfort the nation: Whether it’s a mass shooting or terrorist attack, this is the time to act most presidential. These events spark enough anger and divisiveness without your throwing gas on the fire. I believe you are a mostly compassionate man, so let people see that side.
- Support freedom-fighters around the world: Encouraging the Iranian protesters was one of your best moments and it set the Obama mullah-appeasers into defense mode. Do this more often.
- Refute lies in the press: The news media is guilty of malpractice in terms of how it’s covered this presidency, period. The same press corps that fed the Obama cult of personality is now doing the opposite to you, and it’s despicable. This is one area where you must continue to fight back, even when it means calling out specific networks and reporters.
Do not use Twitter to:
- Criticize your own cabinet members or staff: You picked these folks, and they accepted the job at great personal, professional and political risk. Be a grown-up and deal with your disappointments internally. Belittling people publicly is not accepted in any profession and it is least tolerable by the country’s leading executive.
- Call people names: Yes, it’s funny for a moment, but it is not suitable conduct for any adult, let alone the president of the United States. If you demeaned a colleague or subordinate in the business world the way you do on Twitter, you’d probably be fired, and you know that. Say it in private, laugh about it in bed, text it to Don Jr. or Kellyanne. But, for God’s sake, keep it off Twitter.
- Complain, boast, or play the victim card: At least when Obama did this—and he did it often—it was to head-nodding and sympathetic interviewers. You won’t have the same opportunity, but let your accomplishments speak for themselves. Politics ain’t beanbag, and no one likes a whiner or a braggart.
- Talk about the size . . . of anything: Whether it’s the size of your inaugural crowd, your brain, your tax cut, your hands, or your nuclear button, please stop. It’s just weird and the joke has played out.
Now, I don’t want to be a total buzzkill, so here is my personal list of groups the president should still troll: Obama’s national security team, climate change propagandists, vegans, teetotalers (even though he is one), slow drivers, and Duke basketball fans.
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of this administration. The reason so many people feel like it’s much longer is because of the exhausting cage match between Trump and his supporters, and his powerful enemies. Exercising a little more restraint on Twitter would be a good way for the president to start year two.