Special to the View Across the Wall
Marshall McLuhan’s 1960’s mantra, “the medium is the message” could be a vital key to understanding both Donald Trump’s presidency and the seemingly mystical following he has cultivated. Focusing on the impact of the internet and Twitter, rather than the content, provides insight into a baffling political and social phenomenon.
Twitter, like the internet, is a hybrid combination of what McLuhan described as “hot and cool media”. On one hand, Twitter is a cool medium, like TV, requiring more effort and participation from its participants. Conversely, the print component is hot, requiring far less effort and participation as users read the tweets.
In the case of Trump and his base, the impact of Twitter is profound. For his followers, Twitter provides the sensation that they are in immediate and constant contact with their leader, regardless of the actual messaging. Twitter projects a feeling of community, a community they can control by following or not following. Twitter allows them to construct a re-enforcing communication platform consisting of Trump and like-minded participants. It even allows them the luxury of viewing and criticizing opposing views in a nearly anonymous environment. All of this ingrains a culture well suited to the generally rural and nationalistic profile of the Trump base. Ironically, the notion that the internet has created a global village doesn’t appear to resonate at all with a largely isolationist following.
“Does Trump watch Fox News then tweet, or does Trump tweet and Fox News respond with corroborative reporting and viewpoints?”
It’s safe to assume many Trump supporters although not on Twitter, are still impacted by the medium via secondary means. For example, print and electronic media report and analyze the Trump’s tweets while his supporters watch, read and listen. Media sources rely on Twitter, further enhancing Twitter’s functional impact beyond just the content. To some extent, Twitter and the various media outlets are in a chicken or egg scenario. Does Trump watch Fox News then tweet, or does Trump tweet and Fox News respond with corroborative reporting and viewpoints? In either case, Twitter functions as much as a conduit as it does an information source.
For Donald Trump Twitter is a communicative lifeline. It would be a mistake to assume Trump has conceived of Twitter in strategic terms as a medium. Rather, he is in love with the content, especially his own words. Clearly, Trump has demonstrated that he knows Twitter works for him, but not how or why. It is telling that Trump only follows about 45 people, while Twitter tells us he has 45 million followers. His failure, guided by his advisors, to hold press conferences demonstrates his lack of ability to communicate orally. His interviews have been a public relations nightmares, as witnessed by his latest New York Times impromptu effort. His infrequent scripted speeches have been an obvious struggle. But Twitter, lets “Trump be Trump” as his base is fond of saying. Ask this question. What would the Trump presidency look like without Twitter?
“For Trump, Twitter has an almost addictive quality…selectively ignoring responses while enjoying the adulation of others.
For Trump, Twitter has an almost addictive quality. Clearly, his prodigious use of this platform indicates the medium itself has power—the Twitter platform doesn’t argue, point out numerous misstatements and inconsistencies nor does it judge. It allows Trump to rant as he wishes, the medium seemingly approving of his words with no negative feedback. Although many may react strongly to much of his content, the medium continue to insulate him, selectively ignoring responses while enjoying the adulation of others.
Trump’s failure to effectively communicate in the “S***hole” meeting, and with Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, sends Trump back to Twitter to blame, to make unsubstantiated claims, and to even level sarcastic comments about the many Women’s Marches occurring nationwide. With the recent, but short-lived government shutdown, more tweets emerged from the dimly lit White House. What is clear is this, without the medium known as Twitter, Donald Trump has no voice. Without a voice, the bridge between Trump and his base is eroded. We need to realize that in regard to the ability to broadcast Trump’s voice, Trump has only Twitter—both medium and message.
Ric Coles is a lifelong resident of Idaho, graduate of Boise State University, husband, farmer, Postmaster, adjunct college instructor, and golfer. With a BA in Communication, Communication theory, Complexity theory, and Philosophy have been constant pursuits. Lover of all things written.