We made it through 2017! But sometimes, it looked like we wouldn’t survive a year that seemed intent on shaking up the status quo. Exhibit A: The Trump presidency has upended many of the assumptions we have about the way we govern. In this installment of The New Normal, Colorlines contributor Alfonso Serrano explores how President Donald Trump took tweeting to a new level this year.
Donald Trump, dubbed the 140-character president for his unrestrained use of Twitter, has transformed the way United States presidents communicate with the public. In doing so, he has not only provided the world with unrefined glimpses of his psyche, but upended the way agencies convey policy. With off-the-cuff remarks and Twitter tirades, Trump has contradicted his staff and berated political leaders across the globe, throwing policy leaders into a state of panic at every turn.
In July, for example, Trump tweeted that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. A day later, however, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued an internal memo to military commanders saying that “there will be no modifications” to policy. The offhand tweet cost Trump. In October a federal judge temporarily blocked the proposed ban, pointing to Trump’s contradictory tweet. And last week the same judge ruled transgender people can enlist in the military starting January 1.
Overseas, Trump has wreaked similar havoc. North Korea provides a case in point. After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson toured Asia in early August to rally regional leaders to apply diplomatic pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear objectives, Trump unleashed a rhetorical bomb of his own that upended diplomacy and stoked fears of war. At a press briefing, he told reporters that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it threatened the U.S. Trump followed that salvo months later with a tweet that mocked Kim Jong-un and countered Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts:
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
If there were initial doubts about the gravity of Trump’s Twitter rants, they were dismissed in June when former White House press secretary said they amounted to official statements. Just last week, Moscow confirmed that stance when a Kremlin spokesman said that Vladimir Putin views Trump’s tweets as official positions.
Can other leaders using social media to govern be far behind?