A Twitter Presidency Divided

It’s inescapable. We’re living in the era of the Twitter Presidency. What would once have been private early morning rantings are now 160 character official statements from the president and breaking news on CNN.

A contentious debate has broken out, specifically over Donald Trump’s preferred method of communication, but also over the general idea of politicians using social media to bypass the traditional channels altogether. The president claims it as an effective tool to go around the “mainstream media” and speak directly to his base. Detractors argue that it provides a venue for unchecked rhetoric and is, well, unpresidential.

The next best things since television?

Twitter is the first medium to allow a president unfettered access into the minds of citizens across the country (and around the world). Radio and television were once breakthrough technology that gave politicians an avenue into the living rooms of voters.

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But things have change. Social media reaches into cars and coffee shops, street corners and skyscrapers, anywhere there’s a data signal or a wifi connection. and opinions, no matter how random or controversial they may be, can instantly be seen by anyone with a cell phone, tablet or computer – nearly the entire population.

What is ‘Covfefe?’

So while citizens may be hearing more from their leader, is what they’re hearing worthwhile? Donald Trump has been famous (or infamous) for using Twitter to attack opponents and the media, and for denying or distorting commonly agreed upon facts.

But he’s also used it to promote new job statistics and make cordial statements about other world leaders. Exactly what a president should be doing.

And, well, he’s used it for ‘covfefe.’ What many believed to be a typo in an unfinished tweet started a media firestorm with the follow up:

Is it failure to admit he’s made a mistake (even a tiny one)? Or a way to distract from investigations into collusion and failing health care repeal bills? Or is it possible that ‘covfefe’ has a very real and specific meaning? It seems unlikely but we can’t discount it.

No matter what the real story behind ‘covfefe’ is, it got people talking. And that, in itself, is important for democracy.

A two-way bully pulpit?

What makes Twitter drastically different than other communications tools used by past presidents is that the people can now communicate back. Tweeting at the president is as close to a one-on-one conversation as many will get with the office – which is much closer than anyone in the past would have dreamed of.

Twitter users can voice their frustration with their president and at their president more directly than at any time in the past. Pro-Trump and anti-Trump hashtags rally supporters on both sides.

But Trump has recently been sued by a group of Twitter users who he blocked after them for replied to his tweets with criticism. While the lawsuit may not have enough legal ground to be successful, it emphasizes how important Donald Trump’s account (his personal one, not the official @POTUS that he inherited from Barack Obama) has become.

Revolutionary or a one-off?

A presidency lasts four (or eight) years. Donald Trump is only approaching six months in office. It’s hard to say whether Twitter presidencies will be the norm from now on or whether President Trump is an anomaly. But as both Democrats and now many Republicans, as well as the majority of Americans, wish that Trump would put his iPhone down, it seems likely that we will never see another presidency quite like this.

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Donald Trump’s election win ushered in the era of the Twitter Presidency. Will it outlast his time in office or is it a one-off?

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One thought on “A Twitter Presidency Divided

  1. Nice thought provoking post Amanda. This is a really interesting topic because as you mentioned, this is new ground when it comes to elected officials. While Trump’s presence on social media has been damning at times, it has set a precedent and a significant number of Americans are now looking to Trump’s Twitter account for updates on the status of their country. I would have to say that on some level Twitter Presidency will have to remain part of future POTUS’s duties because although Trump makes a buffoon of himself on Twitter, he still engages directly with the public and on some level that is desirable as a voter.

    Imagine America currently had a great President, like Obama, who thoughtfully engaged with citizens and built a strong online community. By all rights, a positive Twitter Presidency could help to build a stronger and more unified America.

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