It surely was fun watching House Republicans fold before the Trump Twitternaut. They only wanted to gut an independent ethics watchdog panel, but they didn’t reckon with The Donald’s Tweet Power. Within hours of the closed-door vote, congressional offices were deluged by outraged constituents after Trump tweeted his disapproval. We are in a new era.
As long as his Twitter followers will follow, Trump will be able to instantly shape reality to suit his needs. As with the House GOP, he can crystallize a judgment that will resist evidence and force conformity. As with the CIA and Russian hacking of the election, he can, with no evidence whatsoever, cast doubt on the considered judgment of intelligence professionals, even while resisting being briefed by those same professionals. As with Hillary’s emails, he can magnify and distort an issue without regard to truth, to his own advantage.
As long as his Twitter followers will follow, Trump will be able to instantly shape reality to suit his needs.
Assuming he finally does avail himself of intelligence briefings, how long will it be before he unthinkingly tweets top secret information? And how likely is it that he and his followers will see no problem with that?
Political strategists and advertising professionals have long relied on “framing:” putting the best (or worst) possible spin on an issue, candidate or product. What we’re seeing with Trump’s Twitocracy is in some ways an extension of that: take the “Crooked Hillary” theme as an example. But it’s also different for at least two reasons.
First, twitocracy is instantaneous as previous modes of communication have not been. Gross exaggerations, distortions, or outright fabrications can become real in the minds of followers long before the fact-checkers of the traditional media can get on the case. By the time the fact-checkers officially certify “pants on fire,” it’s not even news anymore. All the followers got the first tweet, and believed it, but few of them ever see the fact-check.
Second, while framing presupposes that there’s something there to frame, twitocracy can create a reality with no basis in fact. The idea of the “Big Lie” goes back at least to Goebbels and the Nazis: if you keep repeating a lie long enough, it will be accepted as true. But with Tweet Power, you get the same result a lot faster. As long as the followers keep following, the Chief Twit can appeal to their conspiratorial inclinations to discredit all evidence to the contrary as obviously “fixed” by the ever-present conspiracy of whoever the current bad guys are supposed to be.
The classic definition of the charismatic leader emphasizes that the followers invest the leader with extraordinary powers to transform society, and therefore follow him unquestioningly. Hitler was quintessentially a charismatic leader. I don’t know that Donald Trump merits comparison with HItler: we shall learn more about this in the fulness of time. But he clearly qualifies as a charismatic leader, and Twitter is proving to be absolutely vital to maintaining his ties to his many devoted followers. Our political system is now a Twitocracy, presided over by Donald Trump, Chief Twit.