Twitter, Trump, And The American Presidency

The United States' highest office, as filtered through 140 characters.

The 2017 version of When Harry Met Sally ... — a romance as defined by unexpected pairings as by fate — might well eschew casting more typical leading roles in favor of centering the action on Twitter and Trump. Neither lovebird seems totally at ease with their dependence on the other: Twitter co-founder Evan Williams apologized to The New York Times for Twitter's role in making Trump president after President Trump speculated that he "might not be here" if not for the social network. But nonetheless, together, they are redefining the American presidency.

"Birtherism" was born on Trump's Twitter handle, which then, in turn, spawned the then-businessman's political career and launched him into the presidential race in 2016. Trump's tweets alleging that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya were perhaps the first he wrote to dominate the national news cycle, and he hasn't ceded the 140-character spotlight since. Whether taking aim at the hosts of Morning Joe or blocking veterans from viewing his tweets, Trump's atypically direct (and prolific) use of the platform has sparked national debate, and set him apart from his predecessors. Even Obama, history's first "social media" president, was more low-key.

Still, the president's supporters say they're grateful for the insight into the day-to-day (and hour-to-hour) thoughts of the commander-in-chief, in particular, those relevant to Trump's presidential platform. During the campaign, Trump's Twitter feed was an instant source on the latest news on "Donald Trump for President." Fast-forward seven months later, it's still the source of the latest news on Donald Trump as president, straight from the horse's mouth.

Perhaps the most defining moment of theTrump-Twitterrelationship was the debate over whether posts on Twitter from the president counted as official presidential statements. A Trump-inspired Twitter bot, @RealPressSecBot, put the conversation in context by reformatting Trump's tweets on a White House letterhead as then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the White House Press Corps went back and forth. The final verdict? In June, Spicer declared the tweets "official statements from the president," although there's still apparent resistance to Rep. Mike Quigley's proposed COVFEFE Act, which would officially archive Trump's Twitter account.

The perceived need for The COVFEFE Act, named after one of the president's most-appreciated social media missteps, highlights something that became increasingly clear in July when Trump's Twitter handle announced a ban on transgender military personnel, a ban that reportedly hadn't been discussed previously with the military. Unlike Obama's Twitter presence, which primarily paid homage to the Obama administration's work (or encouraged people to sign up for Obamacare), what's on Trump's Twitter doesn't echo his administration's agenda. It sets it, often leaving officials and onlookers alike stunned.

But should a president known for his quick response time and tweet-from-the-hip mentality leave more of his posts in draft?

When our own co-founder, longtime Twitter user Ashton Kutcher, weighed in on Trump's prodigious tweeting, he offered some sage advice: "I think that his tweets would have done a lot better five years ago when you could share an idea that wasn't fully baked ... Sometimes it's better to mull it over a bit."

Other critics on the platform would agree. Author J.K. Rowling, activist Chelsea Manning, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all been outspoken in questioning the president's use of the social platform. A particular point of contention? Donald Trump's series of anti-CNN tweets, one of which literally depicted the president as wrestling with the network.

Following Trump's unexpected election night victory, Twitter became the site of "the resistance," a resistance made up, at least in part, of anonymous Twitter accounts claiming to be government agencies such as the National Park Service and the EPA "gone rogue." When the Department of Homeland Security ordered Twitter to hand over the identity of one such anti-Trump account, Twitter filed a lawsuit, citing its right to defend its users' privacy and their right to free speech. 

Basically: Twitter may have given Trump a direct line to his voters, but they used it to call him right back, even if Trump may not see it in his Twitter feed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo even used Twitter to ask Trump to recognize Women's Equality Day.

Some critics have taken a more humorous approach. A Muslim American woman tweeted "Can I get an Allahu Akbar?" in response to a tweet from POTUS about Americans worshipping God, not the government, acknowledging the tweet's likely unintended application to religions other than his own. Another Twitter user even Photoshopped Trump's entourage during a press conference in the Rose Garden, so that every man standing behind the president bore the same face. (There was, the Twitter user suggested, already no diversity to be seen.) Sen. Bernie Sanders even used his Twitter account to cheekily question the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's anti-climate change tweet, writing, "Where'd you get your Ph.D.? Trump University."

Even during the campaign, Americans rallied on the platform against controversial policy proposals, like, when during an appearance, Trump singled out Katy Tur, her fellow journalists tweeted #ImWithTur in protest.

And who can forget the preponderance of "bad ombres" tweets during one of Donald Trump's debates against Hillary Clinton, or how, during another Clinton debate, users on the platform shouldered the phrase "nasty woman" with pride?  Donald Trump's debate offhand comments quickly became legendary on the platform. The moment when Donald Trump responded to a debate question about Islamophobia by promoting suspicion of Muslims and all of Twitter immediately reacted will go down in social media history.

In short: in 2008, major party candidates sparred over how they would handle a 3 a.m. call. In 2020, you might hear debate moderators asking President Trump and his opponent how they would handle a 3 a.m. tweet. 

The American presidency has been forever changed by our current tweet-happy commander-in-chief, as will likely be borne out by our next. So hey, if you'd like to get a head start on your election year research — and you aren't exhausted by political Twitter yet — here are five politicians that aren't Donald Trump that you should follow.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.