Friday, January 6, 2017

The Other Side of the Tweet

This week it has become even more clear that the president-elect, Donald Trump, is far from abandoning his Twitter fingers.

Having discovered that he can bypass the mainstream leftist media, he has determined that his go-to model for communicating with the public is going to be on this immensely personal medium.  And why not?

He gets his purest thoughts right in front of the public without the filter of commentary from the leftists in the media.  Oh, they'll comment all right, but they have to compete with the new president himself.  Trump's tweets are an accurate reflection of his mindset on a specific issue at a specific time, in the specific words of the president-elect.

Right now, we like it, at least outside New York and five counties in California.  We like it because it is novel, no previous president has communicated in that way.  Franklin Roosevelt started with his Fireside Chats in the early days of radio's popularity, and may be thought to be the primordial source, but Trump's tweets are direct, personal and very, very immediate -- and if you miss them, they're out there on Al Gore's Amazing Internet whenever you like.

They are also "very Trump" in that the language is the stream-of-thought communication model that reflects how he does communicate.  It is not the prepared-speech language, which he historically (in the campaign) has used successfully, even when subject to the ad libs that were equally "very Trump."

As I write this, there are four such tweets in the last seven hours alone, from a three-tweet series (140 characters is not a lot) about Obamacare, to something about the Russian hacking, to slamming Toyota for planning to build cars in Mexico and then import them here.  Bang, bang, bang, the actual from-the-heart view of the president-elect is right there for all to see.

I really like that aspect of it, for all the reasons cited.  But there is another side of it.

Donald Trump has set a precedent of responding to a certain set of impeti with a tweet.  This happens, then a tweet.  And he keeps doing it because we like it and it is effective, and because the bypassing of the leftist media ensures that we know what he is thinking, or what his process is, or where his first negotiating posture is.

But the precedent is a fragile one.  President Trump cannot reply to everything with a tweet; there are a lot of things meriting a response and there's only so much time in a day, even for the tireless president-elect.  So when does he not tweet?  And what does it mean when he declines to tweet, or simply is too busy?  What are we to infer from that, if he has been tweeting in so many other cases?

This is not the most important thing for him to worry about, certainly.  But he has pretty much set the bar already.  The press and, for that matter, the people, will start to connect the dots, even if the dots aren't really connected.

"Gee, four imbeciles in Chicago kidnapped and beat up a white special-needs kid while yelling racially-rotten things and anti-Trump slogans at the poor kid.  How come Trump didn't tweet about that?"

And, if he hasn't gone ahead and tweeted about it since I wrote this, they would be right; that's a legitimate question right now.

I don't know the proper approach, but somehow the president-elect needs to figure out how to make his Twitter pattern work, without causing a firestorm when he simply does not choose to send out a tweet about something.  That is going to take a bit of thought, and it would be a pretty good idea if that pattern were either intentionally all over the place (i.e., a pattern of "no pattern"), or some proactive thought went into when to tweet and when not to.

As a musician and singer for decades, I am well aware of the aphorism that there is as much music in the rests as there is in the notes themselves.  The analogy is sound here -- Trump will say as much when he does not tweet as when he does, and I hope he will have his team consistently assessing how it looks and whether Trump's goals for communication are being met.

This, friends, will be a fun presidency.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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