No one in modern American politics has used social media to influence an audience better than Donald Trump. His tool of choice: Twitter – the technological equivalent of a 1770 broadside.
Long before he ran for president, Trump would use social media to preen before a television appearance.
“Be sure to tune in and watch Donald Trump on Late Night with David Letterman as he presents the Top Ten List tonight!” — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2009
However, it didn’t take long for Trump to weaponize that “tool” and go from preen to mean:
“ ‘@ForeverMcIn: @realDonaldTrump how much would it take for you to make out with Rosie O’Donnell?’ One trillion, at least!” — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2013
Running for president, Trump’s tweets turned malicious. The New York Times collected “289 people, places and things” Trump leveled broadside after broadside against.
Since being elected president, however, Trump has focused his displeasure at the intelligence community – C.I.A., F.B.I., and National Security Agency – the nonpartisan agencies charged with protecting the American people and their interests.
In a brief meeting with the press outside his Florida estate on New Year’s Eve, Trump continued to challenge the U.S. intelligence community regarding their assertion that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election. “I just want them to be sure,” Trump said, “because it’s a pretty serious charge. I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. And,” he added, “I also know things that other people don’t know…”
When reporters pressed him about what he knows that others don’t, Trump said, “you’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Tuesday and Wednesday came absent any of the promised details from Mr. Trump.
Shortly before the president-elect met with the heads of the intelligence community for an in-depth briefing, Mr. Trump – continuing to doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement – told The New York Times that the I.C’s work was “a political witch hunt.”
Trump continued to pile on.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” – Donald J. Trump, January 4, 20126
Despite the fact that the election is over, Trump continues to employ his tactic of choice: disparage and criticize. And just like the “Boston Massacre” broadside, Trump is more interested in using hype to stir the pot of doubt and distrust than being open to evidence he hasn’t yet heard.
Even the conservative Washington Examiner expressed bewilderment (Jan. 9), writing “The incoming Republican president was asked by reporters at Trump Tower who he trusts more – Assange or U.S. intelligence analysts and the National Security Agency – and about his recent briefing on Russia’s involvement in election-related hackings.
“ ‘We’ll talk about that at another time,’ Trump responded…
“It was not immediately clear,” The Examiner concludes, “whether the president-elect was responding to the question about Assange, the intelligence briefing, or both.”
Clearly, one of the keys to Trump’s success — which millions of his supporters prized — was his tell-it-like-it-is reproof of anyone who attacks him or his beliefs. However, after an endless onslaught of tweets, how long will it take for people to become desensitized to it all, never knowing what to believe.
Imagine walking down a street in 1770 Boston, and being visually assaulted by a broadside every two feet!?
As it turns out, this has just been the tip of the iceberg.
On Wednesday, the iceberg showed up, in full battle stance, as Mr. Trump gave his first press conference since being elected. It began with somewhat of an acknowledgment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. “I think it was Russia, but I think we get hacked by other countries and other people.”
The same day, The Washington Post (Jan. 10), reported that among the details U.S. Intelligence officials presented to President-elect Trump was a summary of allegations that “Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances, U.S. officials said.”
“The officials said that U.S. intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations, but believed that the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion…” in Mr. Trump’s briefing.
CNN was the first to break the news of the existence of a dossier that had been circulated to Washington officials for months, but, correctly, refrained from reporting any of the details because the intelligence community could not determine if any of the accusations were accurate.
However, the news website, BuzzFeed posted the entire 35-page document online that had been leaked to many in the media. (I’ll have more to say about this on Monday.)
Before speaking with reporters, Trump once again took to twitter, first:
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” – Donald J. Trump, January 7, 2017.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper contacted Mr. Trump by phone that evening before issuing a statement saying, in part, “I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
To attack the messenger for reporting, what could be damaging information, and to suggest that the intelligence community is in any way comparable to Nazi Germany is not only disrespectful but reckless.
While Mr. Trump’s twitter strategy may have served him well during the campaign, the campaign is over. It’s time to govern and you can’t begin to govern if you criticize and alienate the very people you need to work with; people who are attempting to properly inform you of issues “that might affect national security.”
Honestly, I want to give the president-elect a chance. I want to be open-minded about the policies and legislation he’s going to put forth to fulfill his promise of improving everyone’s lives in America. But it’s difficult to look at Mr. Trump with objectivity when he is so quick to demonize others absent the facts, and appears to trust people like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange more than his own Intelligence Community.
Sooner or later, people will tire of President Trump’s Twitter tirades. They will tire of someone who is willfully or woefully ignorant of the facts. They will, in fact, want someone — who was elected to sit in the highest office in the country — to think more critically, listen to others more carefully before speaking and govern responsibly.