When people began talking about the political implications of deepfake technology—manipulating a video to transpose one person’s face on another’s body—they usually assumed that deepfakery would be deployed by some anonymous, hostile non-state actor, as a no-return-address, high-tech sabotage of democracy. Who imagined that the return address would be 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Yet it has happened.
April 26, 2020, was an especially manic day in the presidency of Donald Trump. The day might have been expected to be a personal and familial one: the 50th birthday of Trump’s present wife and the first lady of the United States. Yet something was gnawing at him. Perhaps his business troubles were weighing on him. The pandemic has cut Trump’s corporate income by something like three-quarters since mid-March. Or perhaps Trump was still seething at the widespread ridicule of his press conference of April 23, when he suggested using disinfectant “by injection.” Or perhaps something else had shifted his mood from its usual setting of seething aggrievement to frothing fury.
Whatever the cause, between early afternoon and near 9 o’clock eastern time, Trump fired off a sequence of crazy-even-for-him tweets and retweets. He demanded that reporters be stripped of the “Noble prizes” they had supposedly been awarded for their reporting on Trump scandals, apparently conflating them with the Pulitzers—and then pretended that his misspelling of Nobel had been intentional. He complained about reporting on his work habits and hamburger eating, also misspelled. He fulminated against Fox News’ insufficiently adoring coverage, and against reports that he was considering scapegoating Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for the mishandling of the pandemic. He retweeted an increasingly wild and weird range of supporters’ Twitter accounts.