President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is unnerving. Between all the exclamation points, the repetition of the words Fake News (I assume in the hope that the world will magically start agreeing with him about what that is — any media outlet that is not one hundred percent pro-Trump) and his bizarre refusal to genuinely condemn white supremacist action, the recent live Tweeting about the ongoing tragedy from Hurricane Harvey seems almost normal.
I am not going to attempt to diagnose Trump with any mental illness or personality disorder, partly because I am not qualified to do so, and partly because it’s too easy to pin the crazy badge on him and therefore imply that all people living with mental illness or personality disorders are racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, dangerous, terrorism-apologists who compulsively overuse certain punctuation.
As someone who has worked in online communications, reading Trump’s Tweets leaves me shaking my head so hard I’m in danger of dislocating something. At this point, I’m honestly not sure what would be less awful, the idea that he has free and unobstructed reign over a social media account that represents not only himself, but also his political party his country, or that someone with professional experience of online communications somehow supports and encourages the repeated format of “A thing happened. The thing is bad/good. BUT FAKE NEWS. Self-congratulations!”
Both possibilities are equally terrifying. If Trump was Tweeting on behalf of a small organisation, or on behalf of himself while openly working for a named organisation, I would like to think that someone would step in and have a quiet word with him. Like, “OK, Donald, I get that you personally have strong feelings about this stuff but . . . well, you’re kind of making us look bad, so could you perhaps not?”
What’s worse? The possibility that someone has tried to rein in Trump’s online presence to a tone and standard of content more appropriate to his position but hasn’t been successful, or that no one has actually tried?
Social media is a powerful force. Information, whether accurate or not, can travel the world in a matter of seconds. Misrepresentation, propaganda and “alternative facts” spread at the speed of electricity. Virality is king. People who know how to harness this force can, from behind a screen and keyboard, conduct a global symphony of outrage and fear. This has happened. This is happening. It is rarely, if ever, an accident, rather a strategy. I find it difficult to believe that the nature of Trump’s online presence is an accident, but I find it equally difficult to believe that anyone would create and/or approve it as a strategy. This is just one more thing about his presidency that defies all logic.
Trump’s success is partly the result of inherited wealth and privilege, and partly the result of his views and actions being so utterly controversial that people can’t help but discuss him. Anyone who disagrees with him is FAKE NEWS or getting in the way of his valiant mission to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! He has access to tools with which he can project his stream of consciousness to some 36.8 million Twitter followers across the globe, and for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom, he does so freely and with repeated damage to his own reputation, that of his party and his country.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. As the world watches the consequences of Trump’s freedom of speech in action — the validation and multiplication of racism, violence and terrorism under the guise of Good American Patriotism — our collective breath catches in our throats as we begin to understand that perhaps, one day soon, World War III could erupt from 140 characters of fragile posturing and xenophobic bile.