The first six, dramatic months of President Donald Trump’s tenure have been marked, primarily, by his ongoing war with the establishment media. To combat the latter’s concerted efforts to distort his every word and action – and to preempt the constant leaks –Trump has relied upon social media to present his decisions directly to the American public. The Twitter platform has become his personal soapbox, much to the consternation of journalists, members of Congress and White House officials alike. For a populist president in the information age, Trump’s methods, in this regard, should come as no surprise, however. One could even go as far as to wonder why we should expect anything less.
The president’s venting of his personal feelings and frustrations may appear untoward. His frequent rants seem to unsettle many and do not always help his administration’s efforts to control the messaging. This is all part of the Trump package, though; unconventional, unpredictable, and outside the usual definitions of how business is normally conducted. Madness? Some would say yes – but it is not without method.
Three recent examples of Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the normal lines of communication have caught many officials, pundits, and observers completely off-guard. On Wednesday last, the president announced a decision on allowing transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces. Reversing Obama-era policy, he wrote on Twitter “after consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
According to a report in the New York Times, this announcement “appalled” Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was, apparently, informed of this decision only a day in advance. Given the frequency with which administration decisions are leaked to the media, however, why would Trump wait any longer to publicize the policy change? If the decision is final, why should any greater length of time elapse between informing the Pentagon and informing the public? The policy direction itself – whether to allow transgender individuals to enlist – is a divisive one, with opposing views expressed by both those who serve, or have served, and those who have not. The consternation whipped up by Trump’s Twitter announcement of his decision is unfathomable. Had he not himself revealed the decision when he did, it seems likely that one or more media outlets would have announced it within another twenty-four hours or so.
Having been denied a scoop, provided by some leaker within the administration, then, the left-wing media, in their frustration, attempted to make a story out of nothing.
The President revealed a significant, if not entirely unexpected, change in White House staff Friday when he took to Twitter again to introduce his replacement for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….” Trump wrote. Kelly was formerly the Director of Homeland Security. This was another case of the president quickly putting out information that would have, no doubt, been reported a brief time later. Certain media outlets, once again, tried to spin this announcement into a story. Deadline Hollywood even went so far as to publish an entirely false headline: “Donald Trump Fires Chief Of Staff Via Twitter From Air Force One.” In fact, Priebus has revealed that he had resigned the previous evening.
I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
Never one to shy away from writing his thoughts on the process of government, the president also weighed in on the inability of the Republican Senate to pass major legislation. “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time……” he wrote on Twitter early Saturday morning. He followed up with what could be considered a reasonable prediction: “If the Senate Democrats ever got the chance, they would switch to a 51 majority vote in [the]first minute. They are laughing at R’s. MAKE CHANGE!”
Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don't go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017
If the Senate Democrats ever got the chance, they would switch to a 51 majority vote in first minute. They are laughing at R's. MAKE CHANGE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017
Is this what Trump considers “modern day presidential”? It would seem so. Certainly, it is fitting for the first ‘populist’ president this country has seen for decades. Trump may be the first Chief Executive to co-opt social media so often and so directly, but he will, likely, not be the last. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and the up-and-coming Gab are now part of the fabric of modern culture. A president who would not use such media foregoes – intentionally or not – the chance to interact directly with the people, free of traditional media filters. Democratic presidents need concern themselves less with how the establishment news media presents their message. During the two terms of former President Barack Obama, the so-called ‘mainstream’ media practically operated as his personal press office. Not so, for Republicans who can never expect objective reporting of their motives, decisions or even their remarks.
Trump – even given, as he is, to impulsiveness – is using social media to his advantage. As for the American public, whether right- or left-leaning, who would not welcome the opportunity to observe a president’s thought-process and agenda develop in real-time? We now enjoy a constant flow of information and explanation from both the executive and legislative branches of government. Unless one prefers a more secretive and dictatorial government, one cannot argue that this new trend does not benefit the nation.