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July 31, 2017

Governing by Tweet

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

140 characters. Social media platform Twitter created the infamous text limit in order to allow messages to be sent by the Short Message Service, or SMS. Anyone wishing to express a thought on Twitter must cull it down to the essentials, and say whatever needs saying with only 140 characters.


Those of us who tend to long-winded verbal expression are hampered by the limitation. It often feels like we have much more to say as the cursor turns red, a harbinger of the impending limit.


President Donald Trump used Twitter throughout the 2017 campaign. The term “Crooked Hillary” made its debut on Twitter, and most major news outlets featured snippets from Candidate Trump’s overnight Twitter account.


Conventional wisdom suggested the Tweet-storms would dry up after the election. First, the Secret Service is generally opposed to the president having access to unsecured forms of communication. Second, and most important historically, the communications staff at the White House would want to discourage free-ranging opinion expression by the president. They prefer structured and disciplined message management in the digital age.


In the Age of Trump, all conventional wisdom is swept off the table. There is no conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom was a victim of the November 2016 election as much as Hillary Clinton was. Conventional wisdom feels too much like the status quo, and Heaven knows there’s no room for that!


So, the Tweets continue, and often with predictable frequency.


Anytime a biased media report produces a negative story about the president, his family, or pretty much anything he finds objectionable, the POTUS grabs his smartphone and snaps out 140 characters to set the record straight.


Some speculate that there’s some millennial in the White House (more likely the Old Executive Office Building next door) whose sworn duty is to dash off these Tweets while monitoring the “fake news.” If you study President Trump, you’d likely dismiss that idea.


For one thing, the presidential Tweets sound exactly like how the president himself speaks. Consistently clipped, sharp and spontaneous. It would be hard to fake that. For another, President Trump’s single-most significant characteristic isn’t his signature comb-over. It’s his ego. Given how much attention it receives, it’s hard to imagine him delegating the Twitter duty to anyone but himself.


As a source of enjoyment to his millions of supporters and source of irritation to everyone else, these presidential Tweets have become a part of our daily political dialogue. No doubt that was the intended outcome. Skewering his opponents, belittling cable news personalities, and jump-starting public announcements of new initiatives have become the norm for our 45th President.


His Twitter account recently took a darker turn. His growing disagreements with his own attorney general, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Session, have now made their way into 140 character missives of disappointment. Mr. Trump is disappointed that Mr. Sessions recused himself on the Russia election-meddling probe. He’s disappointed that Sessions’ Justice Department allowed the appointment of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller following Sessions’ recusal. And he’s disappointed that Mr. Sessions and his team have yet to open investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of an illegal server, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s meddling in an FBI investigation, and former FBI Director James Comey’s illegal leaks of classified information.


Now don’t misunderstand, all of the acts outlined above warrant action by the Justice Department. There is more than sufficient evidence of the commission of crimes, at least as much, if not more, than the department has of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.


The issue is whether the Twitter social media platform is the proper vehicle through which the president communicates with his Cabinet. The White House spokespeople all say that President Trump effectively uses his Twitter account to bypass the biased news media to speak directly to the American voter.


In truth, the biased media uses his Tweets to manipulate the story to undermine his message. Only a small percentage of voters are connected to his Twitter account, so most voters absorb the “spun’ message as reported on CNN, MSNBC and the networks.


We were told that during his reign as an international real estate tycoon, Mr. Trump was a hands-on CEO and master manager of his subordinates. We all remember his star turn on The Apprentice, telling aspiring businesspeople “you’re fired” when their performance failed to meet his exacting standards.


That was great television, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, what is great on television is terrible practice in the executive suite of a company, and especially in the Oval Office. A more deft hand is required, and a more thoughtful, reasoned and respectful approach to the management of human resources.


If President Trump truly desires to alter the behavior of the very people he chose to serve him, then he should pick up a phone, summon the offender to the Oval Office, and practice behavior modification to achieve the desired results.


Mr. President, put down the smartphone and start governing. Abandon your Twitter account and talk to the people who serve you in the same direct, no-nonsense way we’ve seen you do so many times before.


This isn’t a cheesy reality television show, and it isn’t a battle for ratings. Your Twitter-followers will be happier if you demonstrate measurable political results versus petty rants about past headlines.


Give us the government you promised last year, and we’ll find other ways to satisfy our lesser digital angels, like looking at food or kitten videos on Facebook.


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