Years from now, historians will analyze social media’s role in the election and presidency of Donald Trump. And maybe they will even be able to explain it. Trump’s tactic of pillorying his own staff and party on Twitter confounds traditional analysis, which grants the president’s social media posts the same level of gravitas as official statements for lack of a better approach..
Take last week as just one example. Trump tweeted:
Many, including Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs under President George W. Bush, concluded that Trump was publicly undermining Tillerson.
“This was a direct public, I thought, repudiation of what Tillerson said. It feeds the perception that Tillerson does not have a trusting relationship with the president, and that’s very harmful,” Burns said, according to NBC.
Such analysis assumes foreign governments, leaders and the media view Trump’s tweets the same way they would an official White House statement. But while the news may take everything Trump tweets as policy, it’s hard to believe Trump does. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a president who tweeted an altered video of himself body-slamming CNN.
Trump’s tweets usually sound less like policy-making edicts and more like someone shooting the breeze with friends, a modern day “fireside chat,” if you will.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his “fireside chat” radio broadcasts as a way to communicate his ideas and decisions directly to the American people. It often took four or five days to prepare material for one broadcast and these chats are credited with maintaining his popularity and voters’ trust in him through both the Great Depression and World War II. While no one in Trump’s White House has directly addressed it, it’s hard to imagine similar preparation is going into the majority of Trump’s tweets. Yet here are two presidents using the most modern technology of their time for the same purpose: to maintain an immediate, unfiltered presence in American’s thoughts and homes.
Perhaps because of the immediacy and faux intimacy of social media, analysts and pundits are struggling for the tools with which to judge it as a medium for presidential communication. Trump, more than any other elected official before him, manifests aspects of his personality on Twitter that seem both visceral and accessible.
Trump’s loves to blast the “fake news” media for bias on Twitter, and his tweets range the gamut in topics from policy, to the NFL and the Emmy awards, to insults directed at news anchors. But unlike FDR’s radio addresses, the public does not always react favorably to Trump’s tweets. After Trump tweeted that MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” a Politico/Morning Consult poll found 51 percent viewed Trump somewhat or much less favorably.
“We’ve polled many times about his Twitter habits and each time more and more Americans say they would prefer he used the platform less,” said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.
Even as Americans grow weary of the president’s tweets, he manages to consistently dominate the news cycle with them. This crucial marketing tactic keeps him top-of-mind, whether people like it or not. It remains to be seen whether “all publicity is good publicity” applies to Trump’s use of social media, but one thing is certain: the man who loves ratings has us all talking about him.