So imagine how delighted Trump must have been by the rise of social media. Here, finally, was a way for him to communicate directly with his fans—and with the haters and losers, too. No need to worry about dealing with gatekeepers like NBC, or Maggie Haberman, or even Billy Bush. In the social era, everyone can be their own publisher, network, tabloid. Trump took full advantage. As he ran for president, his every tweet was a news story. Since his election, he’s used Twitter and other platforms to critique, dodge, and displace even the most friendly intermediaries. Large swaths of his day are devoted to “executive time,” which multiple reporters have deduced amounts to sitting in the White House residence, watching cable television, and tweeting about it.
Read: Trump’s coup was born online
For the bulk of Trump’s four years in office, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg let him have free rein of their sites. We’re not publishers, Twitter and Facebook insisted. We’re platforms! Preventing the president from posting anything short of pornography or explicit death threats would be censorship.
But in the waning days of the Trump administration, something shifted. Both companies began affixing warning labels or fact-checks on the president’s most misleading and inflammatory posts. And on Wednesday, after a mob, egged on by Trump, stormed the Capitol to attempt to overturn the election result, leading to the deaths of at least four people, the two men who control the most important channels of Trump’s influence said, Enough. Twitter cut Trump off for 12 hours, while Facebook (and Instagram) banned him indefinitely.
Trump has spent the bulk of the past two months making unfounded allegations that voter fraud changed the result of an election he lost by more than 7 million votes to Joe Biden. The past few days have been no different. It was a video on Wednesday, in which he once again referred to the election being stolen, that prompted Twitter to finally give him the boot.
The president stewed in the White House for a day. When he got back online, he was no John F. Kennedy. But he was maybe uncanny-valley George W. Bush.
Predicting the future is difficult. Given his past performance, though, Trump is unlikely to continue with his new tone for long. The president has spoken calmly and responsibly before—but it’s never stuck.
Read: Republicans meet their monster
It’s tempting to attribute his change of heart to mounting calls for his impeachment on (and off) Capitol Hill, or whispers of his Cabinet invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to remove him from power. But Trump has survived impeachment once before. Persuading 18 Senate Republicans to convict him and remove him from office would be a tall order. And Vice President Mike Pence, the essential player in any effort to invoke the Twenty-Fifth, reportedly opposes doing so. Perhaps the president has realized that inciting a mob to storm the Capitol has placed him in a difficult spot. Perhaps the people closest to him have his best interests in mind, and have persuaded him to try to mitigate the political damage.