This post has been coming for two or three years now. It’s sensitive, yes, but not time sensitive, and really could appear today or any day in the Trump era. Today just happens to be the day.
Much of the controversy surrounding our current president is his use of a particular social media platform. That would be Twitter, which is, depending on your opinion, the greatest or most useless application ever created.
It is on the subject of opinions that we address Mr. Trump’s use of Twitter.
Twitter, like most social media and indeed most things in life, allows us to see what we want to see. I suppose this has always been true; in the early days of this country there were “party” newspapers and one could read the news though political lenses of particular partisan slants. This is all the more true in the social media era. One literally chooses to “follow” certain newscasters and news organizations. The days of “the news” or “the newspaper” are over. But we’ve discussed that many times.
What Trump has done, by his use of Twitter, is no different from what other presidents have done using the “new” media of their day. I think the three greatest examples of this are arguably the three most popular presidents of the last century. In the 1930s it was Franklin Roosevelt who brought us his “fireside chats” via the new medium of radio. A generation later it was John F. Kennedy who looked so cool and confident on TV that it may have swung a close election his way. And it was Ronald Reagan, 20 years later, who used TV to its greatest potential, bringing his version of the fireside chat to the homes of his constituents in the 1980s.
TV and radio were game-changing technology. So too the Internet. To me the true forerunners of using the Internet in politics were two gentlemen who had no business on the national scene, but used said technology to catapult them into the light. The first was Ross Perot, at the end of the last century, and the next was Howard Dean, at the beginning of this one. Two longshot presidential hopefuls really showed the rest of us how to use the Internet, first to raise money and then to get messages out, over the heads of the traditional media and to the American public directly. This is what you do if you don’t have the party apparatus or the media behind you: you find another way. That’s Trump on Twitter in a nutshell. He doesn’t need “the media” or the Republican establishment to get his thoughts directly to you. Like his tweets or not (and I’ll admit, many I find wrongheaded), he’s communicating directly with the American public.
If you liked Trump, you’d think it was brilliant.
That’s the bottom line, really. How you feel about the messenger is how you’ll feel about the message. If it were a politician you liked (Obama, Hillary, or any president or presidential hopeful past), and he or she was using Twitter the way Trump uses Twitter, you’d think it was brilliant. Remember, we see what we want to see in the Internet, and in the media, and this is becoming more and more true as the Internet and social media break down traditional news, information, and entertainment gatekeepers.
Reason number 1,784,259 why it’s more fun to be a scientist than a partisan.