Donald Trump doesn’t need a crystal ball, he has a mysterious glowing orb. No, wait. Scratch that. Donald Trump doesn’t need a crystal ball, he has a mysterious clairvoyant Twitter account.
There seems to be, Trump watchers have noticed, a weirdly prophetic tweet in Trump’s past for every new aspect of his presidency—from his weekends golfing at Mar-a-Lago to each new bombshell scoop about the embattled White House and its alleged ties to Russia.
This goes beyond using classic Trump tweets to insult him, though people are doing that, too—the prototypical example comes from June 2014, when Trump tweeted, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?”
Trump’s critics are now delighting in the ability to criticize Trump by using his own targeted complaints about others. His past tweets underscore stupendous hypocrisy, they say, and perhaps a hint at an epic political downfall. Democrats have been agitating for Trump’s political demise since before he was the Republican nominee, but even the most apolitical observer would acknowledge how uncanny some of Trump’s past tweets have become.
When the Congressional Budget Office determined that Congressional Republicans’ Trump-supported plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of uninsured people by 24 million in the next decade, the internet reached for a Trump tweet from 2014: “It’s Thursday. How many people have lost their health care today?” he’d written at the time.
When Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria in April, people shared this Trump tweet from 2013: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!”
This one has been making the rounds, too: “PresObama is not busy talking to Congress about Syria..he is playing golf ...go figure,” Trump tweeted in 2013. Fast forward to 2017 and Trump has already outpaced Obama’s presidential golfing rate. (Obama was a prolific golfer.*)
After reports that Trump is considering a massive troop surge in Afghanistan, this 2013 tweet reappeared: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”
“Is there a name for the eerie way that Trump subtweeted his entire presidency?” Peter Daou, a former Hillary Clinton adviser, said recently. “There’s truly a tweet for every occasion.” Various observers have compared the phenomenon to everything from mass-produced greeting cards to the elegance of mathematics to science fiction.
“Seems there’s a hypocritical Trump tweet for almost every occasion,” one Twitter user wrote. “They’re like Hallmark cards.”
And another: “His hypocrisy meter uses a Fibonacci number and it just keeps spinning into infinity through space and time...”
The appeal of reaching for Trump’s old tweets is understandable, and not just because people enjoy pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians they dislike. The medium is meaningful here, too. Rarely are schadenfreude and political commentary packaged together so neatly. Tweets are, by the platform’s very nature, succinct, atomized, and imminently shareable. Trump himself has employed the same tactic in an attempt to point out hypocrisy among his celebrity rivals.
Skipping through the linear order of events this way is also a reflection of warped time as a dominant theme in the Trump presidency—both among supporters who want to travel backward in time to Make America Great Again, and among critics who compare him to the time-traveling Back to the Future villain Biff Tannen (or worse.)
Using past tweets as present criticism isn’t just suited to Twitter’s platform, or political culture, or even outright partisanship. This approach also leverages Trump’s blustery style of attacking others as well as the richness of his particular Twitter archive, which goes back to 2009.
And in an irony that’s almost too delectable, there is the fact that so many of Trump’s past attacks against Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential campaign were based on the premise that she was reckless with classified information—which is now the same criticism Trump faces in one of the biggest scandals of his fledgling presidency. “Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team ‘were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.’ Not fit!” he tweeted last July. (Trump’s ongoing refusal to share his tax returns is in similarly sharp contrast to this 2012 tweet: “All recent Presidents have released their transcripts. What is @BarackObama hiding?”)
Given the Russia probe, many of Trump’s old tweets seem to have startling new relevance. Like this one, from October, which people shared amid the news last week that the former FBI Director Robert Mueller had been appointed special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “If I win,” Trump had tweeted a month before election day, presumably directed at Clinton, “I am going to instruct my AG to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation bc there's never been anything like your lies.”
And this one, from February, which Democrats seized on when The Washington Post revealed Trump had shared highly classified information with Russian leaders in the Oval Office the day after he fired the FBI director James Comey: “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”
Last month, when Trump criticized the Obama administration for having done “nothing” to stop the Assad regime in Syria, people resurrected a string of Trump tweets from 2013: “We should stay the hell out of Syria,” he had tweeted in one case. And also: “Do NOT attack Syria,fix U.S.A.”And also: “Stay away and fix broken U.S.”
And just in case there was any doubt whatsoever: “What I am saying is stay out of Syria.”
This week, after Trump visited Saudi Arabia—where the first lady was photographed without a headscarf—this 2015 Trump tweet resurfaced: “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies,” he tweeted in January of that year.
Other figures in the Trump inner circle have made cameos in this internet parlor game. After reports on Monday that Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, a 2013 tweet from Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, sprang back to life online: “why do u take the 5th if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide?” Spicer had tweeted at the time. It seems to have been a reference to an IRS official who invoked her right not to testify after disclosing the agency’s improper targeting of conservative groups. But untethered from context and time, Spicer’s past commentary seemed linked to Flynn today.
There are so many more examples that “a Trump tweet for everything” has long since crossed over into parody—meaning you should definitely remain skeptical about anything being shared as a past Trump tweet until you verify it for yourself. Consider this delightful but obviously fake mock-up, for example, and always cross reference against the legitimate Trump tweet archive.
For the record, Trump’s pixelated paper trail shows no references to any orb other than the one in words like “Forbes,” “absorb,” and “forbid.” Even in the most surreal political scenarios, there’s only so much you can see coming.
Or, as Trump tweeted in 2013, “Just shows that you can have all the cards and lose if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
* Tracking any president’s time on the green is a longstanding, petty political pastime. Not surprisingly, then, pundits have gone full ouroboros on the Trump-versus-Obama golf question. Conservative commentators are now accusing fact-checking outlets of hypocrisy for tracking Trump’s golf-playing hypocrisy, arguing that fact checkers didn't follow Obama’s golfing schedule as closely. (Many national news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, wrote about Obama’s frequent golfing while he was president.)