It is possible to view the history of presidential politics in McLuhanian terms, via the changing technologies that leaders have used to communicate. William Jennings Bryan stood at the edge of a train car and bellowed orations to his devoted followers as he traveled across the country. Franklin D. Roosevelt used the intimacy of radio and his flair for the dramatic to transmit “real news,” as he once put it, directly to the people. And Donald Trump watches TV while thumbing out tweets to the “haters” and “losers.”
Trump has tweeted 6,152 times since he was inaugurated, each message a fragment of presidential id. His timeline, which swerves predictably from seething to gloating, is not just an end run around the press but a splintered stream of consciousness unmatched in presidential history, an unfiltered look at the forces that animate a president obsessed with how he is viewed by others.
His tweets are messy, reactive, often petty, and occasionally cruel. The world has grown accustomed to this aspect of the Trump presidency, and the regularity with which he self-publishes flapdoodle conspiracies, casual sexism, schoolyard insults, tin-can patriotism, and outright lies. When a steady stream of exclamation points is not enough, the president opts for all caps instead, as when he tweeted at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last summer: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”