True, the president at the time of Twitter’s birth, George W. Bush, did not use it even four years after his incumbency, when his father, George H.W., tweeted “Barbara and I wish we could have joined the US delegation honoring President Mandela today,” and not even the following year, when Bill Clinton tweeted the younger Bush “how are you still not on Twitter” (to which Bush replied – on Instagram – “how are you still not on Instagram.”)
Still, by the time Trump emerged on his doorstep Barack Obama had fired more than 15,000 presidential tweets, collecting more than 96 million followers while, for instance, fielding questions from the public in summer 2011 concerning jobs, deficits, and space exploration.
Obama was such a frequent tweeter that twitaholic.com ranked him among the world’s ten most-followed tweeters, alongside Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga.
Though as a company Twitter has yet to register its first profitable quarter, as a trendsetter it has established itself as a fixture of the international arena.
Which world leader hasn’t tweeted to us in recent years?
Pope Francis boasted 40 million followers in 2017, five years after his predecessor Benedict released the first papal tweet since the Sermon on the Mountain (“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”)
Queen Elizabeth tweeted in 2014 the first royal tweet, a typically bland “It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”
Yes, Kim Jong-un does not tweet, but with royalty and the papacy tweeting, the ayatollahs lost no time joining the bandwagon.
“Jesus endured sufferings to oppose tyrants who had put humans in hell in this world & the hereafter while he backed the oppressed. #Ferguson,” wrote Ali Khamenei in 2014, alluding to the racial unrest at the time in Missouri. And President Hassan Rouhani just used Twitter to reassure us that “Iran does not seek to restore its ancient empire; impose its official religion on others; or export its revolution with force of arms.”
Presidential and prime-ministerial tweets have become so commonplace that when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on his way to India, and PM Narendra Modi’s tweeted “look forward to pick you up in the state of Gujarat” – criticism was not about that tweet’s deployment, only about its language, the guest’s Japanese, which Modi’s own followers had difficulty deciphering.
Well despite his colleagues’ prolific tweeting, in 2017 the president of the US trumped all tweeters, having turned the tweet into something entirely different, using it to lie, bicker, disparage, grandstand, escape responsibility, foment hatred, and avoid discussion, insight, and mature debate.
THE PRESIDENTIAL abuse of Twitter became apparent upon Trump’s arrival in the White House, as he lost no time violating his spring-2016 vow to an audience in Warwick, Rhode Island, “don’t worry, I’ll give it up after I’m president; we won’t tweet anymore; I don’t know; not presidential.”
This lie would overarch numerous others: from the one about investigative journalist David Cay Johnston – who probed Trump’s finances – being “a reporter who nobody ever heard of,” while he is actually a New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner; through the one about a White House invitation to basketball star Stephen Curry being “withdrawn” because he was “hesitating” to accept it, whereas Curry had already said he would not come; to the one about the president having rejected a TIME magazine offer to be its Person of the Year provided he agreed to an interview and “major photo shoot.”
Trump lied about not tweeting, but he said the truth when he called tweeting – as he practices it – “not presidential.”
To publicly scold Theresa May (“don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom”) after her aide criticized Trump’s retweeting of a British far-right anti-immigrant video was so derelict, that one wonders whether Trump was aware that Britain’s alliance with the US is the most solid, deep, and durable any two nations ever had.
Less reckless, but even more un-presidential, was a gloating Trump’s name-calling of Al Franken as “Al Frankenstein” while the Minnesota senator’s political career collapsed due to sexual misconduct revelations. “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” asked the presidential tweet, referring to a photo of Franken mockingly placing his hands on the snoozing and helmeted journalist Leeann Tweeden’s breasts, while on a flight during a joint tour of the Middle East.
Such public rhetoric would be abhorrent for anyone, let alone a president, under any circumstances, but considering multiple women’s stories about Trump it is altogether tactless, absurd, and very scary. Then again, it was only natural for a man who tweeted from the hip against anyone, from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meryl Streep through the mayor of London and the prime minister of Australia to the National Football League and his own secretary of state.
Is this celebration of cockfighting, mudslinging, and systematic lying what the successor of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt does when the rest of us expect him to lead the free world, we wondered throughout 2017? Well the sad truth and flat answer is: yes.
We are led by a man who, for instance, instead of affecting the international scourge represented by North Korea, name-calls its leader – in tweets, need we say – “Little Rocket Man” and also “short and fat,” as if they were a pair of second-graders brawling in the schoolyard.
Historians will someday note that, unlike mostly colorless and expectable tweets by kings, queens, popes, ayatollahs, presidents, prime ministers, athletes, actors and also terrorists – Trump’s actually carried profound meaning, having both reflected and accelerated the unfolding digitized era’s decline of conversation, perversion of human interaction, scorn for seriousness, and manipulation of truth.
That’s why 2017 will be recalled as a milestone in a great civilizational decline. (Jerusalem Post 29 December)