Trump Tweets: Policy-Making in 280 Characters or Less?

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Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017

Twitter Critter

For years, Donald Trump has been an avid user of Twitter. Be it for throwing insults, making outrageous claims, or boasting about his latest achievements. While it certainly was amusing, a degenerate celebrity throwing shade on a social media site is nothing newsworthy. Or it wasn’t. However, things changed when he was elected the 45th president of the United States. What once used to be merely a series of ill-informed rants of a big-shot whoremonger, has turned into the official statements of the most powerful man in the world. And that opened a world of possibilities.

I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2017

Indeed the 2016 elections were game-changing in many aspects. On one hand we have the hilarious fact, that even after years of heinous acts dedicated to gathering power, including rape cover-ups, corruption, possible murder, and selling her soul to Satan, Hillary Clinton was still not capable of securing an election victory against a man who can’t even spell the word elections. On the other hand, that very man is now in control of the highest office in the most powerful country in the world. His Tweets now have the power of shaping policy in a way that we have never seen before.

Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories. — George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018

Framing the Narrative

While we could focus on the amusement value of being governed by the modern equivalent of the village idiot for a long time, there are some more important underlying developments exemplified in Donald Trump’s Tweets. Setting aside the shortcomings of his personality, the ability to immediately deliver ones key messages to millions of people is truly a revolution in the political world. The President is no longer dependent on the graces of the traditional mass media to connect with the voters. No censorship. No filters. Direct access to 65 million followers, and any other viewers mad enough to cultivate an interest in the nutty shitshow that is Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Of course there is a debate as to whether his personal style of communication is the convoluted result of his 4D chess tactical brilliance, or merely the consequence of a very disturbed mind, but lets first look at the end results.

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George Lakoff

Whether you believe it is purely a lucky turn-out or a calculated culmination of an unappreciated genius, his Tweets do seem to produce some favourable results. By appealing directly to his voters he is able to control the narrative. He can choose what issue to highlight and bring to people’s attention. Its hard to say whether its good or bad, that politicians in general now get to frame the current issues without going through the traditional channels. However, it seems to be the mode of information dissemination we are shifting to. 24 hour news coverage of the Mainstream media seems to be giving way to a man who writes with the simplicity and syntax of a 12-year-old.

As evidenced by his social media history, Trump is also rather good at coming up with a set of repetitive catchphrases, aimed at creating an unflattering image for his opponents or glorifying his views. “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Marco”, and “Crooked Hillary” were resonating in people’s heads in the 2016 presidential race and beyond. Furthermore, instead of presenting some complex plans or constructive criticism, Trump seems to have boiled down his attacks and his policies into simple, memorable slogans that he kept bashing on our heads. Despite what we may be inclined to think, repeating catchy phrases does seem to appeal to the voters. Certainly more people recognize “Build the Wall”, than Mitt Romney’s 1,000-point tax plan. And that is what counts.

Policy Change and Strategic Chaos

While it may seem like Donald Trump spends most of his time Tweeting outrageous things and barely does any work in the office, he did manage to pass quite a large number of laws. However, not many of them were in public view. The focus of the public and the media is on his gaffs, personal attacks, or endless affairs. Who wants to delve into the depths of administrative nonsense when we can read about him banging a porn star while watching Shark Week? People operate on a very limited attention span. There is only so much we can care for. Usually this means that people focus on whatever problem is closest to them, or what seems most interesting. Policy-makers in turn focus on the issues they see as popular (read – those that can get them re-elected) and try to implement them. They set out a hierarchy of goals and aims for their policy implementation. With Donald Trump it seems to be rather different…

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018

Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018

One of the main characteristics of the Trump administration is the apparent lack of any value hierarchy or linear policy progression. His Tweets go from foreign to national policy, to insulting celebrities, to boasting and so on. Quite often we can see him slagging off a particular policy, only to sign it into law the next day. Any analysis of his presidency is made nigh impossible by the constant lurches from one area to the other. What is striking, however, is that there are hints of a plan. Child-like outbursts and petty scandals seem to dominate the headlines at the same time as most of his policy is being implemented in the background. Could the general confusion truly be a smoke-screen thrown by an evil genius? We could look at an exemplar tweet to asses whether there truly is a policy of “Strategic Chaos”.

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

According to some sources, the 9 or so minutes it took the President to form another sentence and finish his thought, the Pentagon was in a state of panic. Will we not allow… Russian diplomats to enter the country? Or the North Korean regime to exist? Should we ready the nukes?

….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

No. It turns out it was merely a ban on transgender people in the military. This tweet seemed to stir a lot of controversy and dominated the headlines for a long time. Which in Donald Trump’s world of news was about an hour, till the next crisis came along. However, despite announcing a pretty straightforward policy, the people who seemed most surprised by it were the White House Press Secretary and aforementioned military experts. No details were announced. No consultations made. And no law was written. Turns out, that this sudden shift in policy was not a show of far-right hate as many journalists would claim, or a sudden nuclear attack on “The Rocket Man” as some officials feared, but merely an attempt to get more funding for the wall.

There are many other examples of Trumps Tweets being a “Weapon of Mass Distraction” that create cover for the real policy, that is being implemented in the background. The jury is still out whether that is a sign of incompetent chaos or a genius master-plan. If it is the latter, then its hidden really well. Anyway, all we know for sure is that the area of politics is still evolving and the digital age brings many challenges and opportunities. The fact that a single person can use 280 characters or less to side-line traditional media, shape narratives, frame opponents, and shift public attention, all without employing more than two brain cells, is a revolution in policy-making. What Donald Trump has, perhaps inadvertently, given us is a completely new way to shape and create public policy.