The first president to hold court on social media cannot be said to have fallen into a predictable routine quite yet. But he is showing something of a pattern.
The tweets of Donald Trump tend to be defensive responses to what he treats as aggressive attacks either carried on or generated by news media. He favors the early morning. His targets tend to be certain Republicans and Democrats in general.
His complaints and threats fall into broad categories too. He doesn’t get enough credit for this or that. So-and-so better not do such-and-such (block the wall, probe his finances, stop Obamacare repeal) or else.
The tone tends to be grim, self-celebrating, or praiseworthy of those who have supported or benefitted him. Sometimes Trump sounds less confident of winning than frightened of losing.
The question becomes whether at a certain point all his Twitter traffic and controversial rally and press statements cease to generate the impact to which we are now accustomed.
Once upon a time a bold suggestion from a former CIA director that a president isn’t quite right in the head — astonishing in itself — wouldn’t have prompted a jeering response.
But when James Clapper compared Trump in speeches to Jekyll and Hyde, the electronic reply from 1600 was: “James Clapper, who famously got caught lying to Congress, is now an authority on Donald Trump. Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?”
Clapper did falsely testify several years ago that national security agencies were not collecting Americans’ data, something he described as having misspoken.
The “beautiful letter” apparently referred to notes written pre-election to both Hillary Clinton and Trump - Clinton’s was never sent - vowing to serve the winner with truthful information whether or not it fit the political agenda.
The exchange was so typical of the past seven months — Trump’s account of the facts at variance with an antagonist’s — that the public spat’s peculiarity in the overall arc of post-World War II history was easy to miss or gloss over.
Not all of Trump’s anomalous messages even make the daily news roundups, such as retweets from strange or fringe sources. Wall Street analysts have long since stopped taking Trump’s statements to the bank, so to speak, when it comes to economic predictions.
Jack Goldsmith, who served in the Justice Department under Preident George W. Bush, wrote a few weeks ago on lawfareblog.com: “What is remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,”
“The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments.”
Which translates into not taking those tweets literally, since that’s where so many of those positions and desires are barked.