This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #23.
In 2006 Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, composed the first ever tweet. It read “just setting up my twittr”. In 2018 the 45th President Of the United States Of America, Donald Trump, bragged about his ability to cause a nuclear holocaust: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”. From an innovative start up beloved by hipsters, it’s now a character limited way for American’s biggest character to receive the world’s undivided attention. We’ve come a long way.
In Trump’s adoption of the platform in March 2009, we were given access into the life of a billionaire who had achieved one of his greatest goals: fame. In a media career that had been boosted by tabloid chatter, primetime television shows and surreal appearances at much loved events like the F.A Cup draw and Wrestlemania 23, he now had the ability to get his image out to the masses whenever he wanted with just a smartphone.
For the first couple of years at least, there was noted constraint. Like many celebrities who had joined the platform in its infancy, his online brand was carefully managed and cultivated by a team of underlings. Looking back at his early timeline it is a real juxtaposition to what we see today. Whether it was promoting a TV appearance (“Be sure to tune in and watch Donald Trump on Late Night with David Letterman as he presents the Top Ten List tonight!”) or plugging his various books the same type of tweet was sent. They were bland. BORING! even. Less mahogany orange, more magnolia. Devoid of any discernible character or personality it jars with the larger than life persona that we’ve come to know and indeed the one he spent decades trying to create.
His next year carried on much the same, publicising theatre trips (‘Melania and I saw American Idiot on Broadway last night and it was great. An amazing theatrical experience!’) and sending well wishes to his celebrity friends. In fact it wasn’t until 2011 that we started to witness the precursor to the Donald. You see, offline he’d started to become more and more political. Now a Fox News regular, he was a vocal proponent of the Obama “birther” conspiracies and regularly took aim at representatives from both major parties. So disenchanted with national politics, he flirted with the idea of a Presidential bid in 2012 before deciding it wasn’t the right time for him. He was starting to make big waves but to the 300,000 people who followed him on Twitter at the time he was quiet. Again he was only using his online profile as a way to promote his offline media work. Twitter was just an amplifier, not the live mic. That was soon about to change.
We can pinpoint when the shift occurred. Wednesday, July 6, 2011, at 10:38 AM. “Congress is back.TIME TO CUT, CAP AND BALANCE.There is no revenue problem.The Debt Limit cannot be raised until Obama spending is contained.” This was the beginning. The genesis of the Donald. Everything we’ve come to expect in just 140 characters. The alarmist tone. Mid-stream capitals. Of course we’ve seen some evolution in his style since then. In this instance his points are still coherent. The fractured syntax and personal attacks come later. It may have been a gestation period that rivals an elephant, but it had finally come to pass. The birth of Trump on Twitter.
From then we’ve seen him launch himself headfirst into conspiracies, engineer friendships with fascists and teach his audience of 31 million followers at the time the joys of learning new words (“Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”). The rise of social media has helped turned the world into a 24/7 episode of The Truman Show with a cast of over 7 billion. With Trump’s new online presence he’s given himself top billing. And with the help of the U.S electorate, this may now mean something.
As Sean Spicer, the President’s first press secretary pointed out, Trump “is the President of the United States,” and so his tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States”. So every bad word against a company is the view of the United States and its people. Every personal attack against an actor or actress is the view of the United States and its people. When he eventually decides he’s had enough and declares all-out war on millions of people and promises that fire and brimstone will rain down upon them until they become just smudges on a map, history will see this as the view of the United States and its people.
From the beginning it was obvious his time in power was going to be different. He is the first commander-in-chief never to have held government or military office. He’s changed party allegiance five times. He has confounded the opinion of the political elite and this was all made possible because of social media. As he put it in an interview with Financial Times, with more than 101 million followers on social media he can get across any message he wants, whether the media is fake or not. And the worst thing is, we cannot look away. We’re Pavlov’s dog, salivating at his feed.
With the world’s collective eyes now trained on his next burst of 280 characters we can now only hope for some form of redemption. To leave behind a legacy that is something more than the President who spawned a thousand think pieces. He could use his unique voice for to shine a light on the good. He could bring much needed publicity to great charity work and champion the underdog. Maybe then his time on Twitter and perhaps his legacy would be a little bit less SAD.