DEPENDING on your point of view US President Donald Trump’s use of social media – in particular Twitter – is either childish and un-presidential or a masterclass in how to communicate with ordinary people. Or perhaps it is actually a bit of both?
Whereas previous presidents would release carefully worded, blandly diplomatic statements on topical issues through the White House press office, Trump fires off sometimes dozens of tweets a day, even through the night, on all matter of subjects often, seemingly, off the top of his head.
What you get is pure unfiltered Trump – direct, boastful, goading, and sometimes petty, for example when he engages in pointless feuds with celebrities such as Meryl Streep and Arnold Schwarzenegger, that demonstrate what a thin skin he has.
But anyone who dismisses this as stupid and pointless is missing Trump’s trick. What we see here is a carefully calculated and sometimes brilliantly executed communications strategy.
A friend of mine – a social media professional – described Trump to me as “the Jedi Master of trolls”. Not a day goes by when he fails to reduce his opponents to a gibbering, incoherent rage while bolstering and encouraging his supporters.
Look, for example, at the way he repeats certain themes using identical language that eventually soaks into your consciousness. Thus, his former election rival Hillary Clinton is invariably “Crooked Hillary” – so much so that whenever I see her on television the word “crooked” immediately pops into my mind. I am sure I am not alone.
It is the same with “the failing” New York Times and “fake news media” such as CNN. His dismissive description North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as “little rocket man” is also memorable enough to stick in your mind.
He has a simple knack – unlike most of the political elite – of speaking directly to people in language they can understand about issues they are concerned about. For example when Theresa May criticised Trump for re-tweeting videos critical of Islam, Trump replied, via a tweet obviously: “Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism taking place in the United Kingdom.”
Many British people, who wish our political establishment could get half as angry and upset over little girls being murdered at a Manchester pop concert as they do over Trump’s tweets, nodded their heads in agreement.
He explained his strategy of bypassing traditional media and speaking directly to people in a tweet last weekend: “I use social media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair ‘press’, now often referred to as Fake News Media.”
He is also very shrewd in identifying and concentrating his fire on the weak points of his opponents. For example the Democrats in the US have tried to construct a narrative that his recent tax cuts would only benefit the rich. Trump has delighted in pointing out that ordinary workers are seeing big increases in their wages, and getting substantial bonuses, while highlighting falling unemployment and record rises in the stock market. According to Trump, he is making good on his promise to “Make America Great Again!”
Similarly the left in the US and Europe have greeted the pro-democracy protests in Iran with an embarrassed silence. Trump has unequivocally backed the protests, reminding people of Tehran’s support for terror around the world and President Obama’s shameful appeasement of the brutal Islamist regime.
In recent days, Trump has turned his fire on Pakistan and the Palestinians for supporting terror while constantly holding out the begging bowl for Western aid. The President has threatened to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in support from both. Again this is a popular move. Is there a taxpayer on the planet happy to see their hard-earned money used for terror attacks on civilians in Israel or Afghanistan?
Probably the funniest recent tweet from Trump was earlier this week when he claimed credit for the fact there had been no deaths in commercial aviation around the world for the whole of 2017. This reduced his critics to a level of frothing hysteria that was simply hilarious to behold.
Regular readers of this column will know I am not a natural Trump supporter and I’ve been highly critical of him in the past – but I have to admit he has a peculiar genius for upsetting precisely the right people.