I collected football cards as a kid. I spent hours memorizing the statistics and even what the players looked like without their helmets on, just in case I ever ran into one of them at a local restaurant or at the airport, which was the only place I ever heard of anyone actually interacting with a famous person in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1980s.
Back then, the most I knew about Roger Staubach, Walter Payton or Joe Green’s off-the-field personalities was from a fictitious Coca-Cola commercial about the latter’s soft spot for a young fan. I knew almost nothing about these gridiron giants’ personal thoughts or political opinions that wasn’t carefully controlled by their public relations teams.
Those days are long gone, as each celebrity, whether it is a professional athlete or an elected official now talks directly to his or her fans on dozens of free social networking sites at any hour of the day.
Let’s face it, @RealDonaldTrump became the Heisman Trophy winner of this new media, tirelessly tweeting out shocking news and changing the conversation. But the irony lies in his Twitter handle’s first four letters — R-E-A-L. Trump doesn’t demonstrate the persona of a politician who is focused on policy; there is no need for a late-night talk show interview to understand the soft personal side of this president. We’ve gotten to know exactly who he is by hearing from him 24 hours a day for the past four years. Twitter gave this reality TV show host his biggest weapon in 2016, and now it may be the biggest reason for his downfall.
Without handlers able to hide their loose cannon of a client, we are fortunate to know exactly what and how President Trump thinks. We have seen years of Trump’s name-calling, his promotion of hate speech, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Even if these knee-jerk thoughts are eventually deleted, he has built up a consistent pattern for Americans to judge his character. His tweets are clear about his beliefs, instincts, and political convictions.
Unfortunately, we are not seeing the same type of honest emotion from the other side to counterbalance these deeply personal opinions from the right. Shortly after the 2016 election, I challenged Democrats to do better on social media by using some of Trump’s 2016 playbook. This included speaking directly to base voters through hashtags while tweeting around the clock in the same way Trump does with his #MAGA base. “Clearly, Mr. Trump took #NoFilter to the extreme,” I wrote a few days after the election, “but all candidates need to be more authentic online. However appalled we may have been by Mr. Trump’s tweets, they did not feel washed through a political spin machine.”
Most Democratic candidates still have staffers tweeting from a list of approved phrases that are scheduled and placed on content calendars, instead of using these platforms to amplify the candidate’s actual personality. These safe social media policies are how we end up with trite end-of-quarter finance tweets, two-page press releases posted on Twitter as an image file, and even research teams posting policy stats. None of these tactics comes close to showing the candidate’s personal thoughts or real empathy for constituents. None can compete against the vitriolic, emotionally charged tweets that are Trump’s specialty.
While Twitter recently started flagging Trump’s tweets for violation of services, his true colors have already shown. As we all know, it’s not one or two times that he has been forced to delete a tweet, nor can these egregious posts be brushed off as simple accidents.
I believe this is great news for the 2020 election. We know Trump better than many of us know our own relatives; the football helmet has been removed and we’ve gotten to see the player for who he really is.
This is something that Twitter’s co-creator Dom Sagolla warned about in one of the first guides to the platform. In his 2009 book “140 Characters: A style guide for the short form,” he cautioned users against tweeting too much junk and talking smack on the platform. He wrote, “Pause. Think for a second: Would you write this down on a piece of paper, and pass it to someone? Would you put it in a letter to send someone? Fun is contagious, but remember: One person’s fun is another one’s farce. The truth can be hilarious, but not when it is at someone else’s expense. Take care to avoid buffoonery, or you won’t be taken seriously when you need to be.”
We have had a front-row seat to the naked emperor and all his thoughts for the last four years. The curtain was pulled back so far that we know exactly how the machine works. And it’s starting to look like these tactics have become old and tired. Voters aren’t buying them anymore. While millions of voters fell for Trump’s childish branding of “Crooked Hillary,” nobody seems to be responding to his branding of Joe Biden as “Sleepy Joe.”
I hope the Twitter president will be served an ironic outcome of biblical proportions come November. If Trump loses, it won’t be because America doesn’t know who the real Donald Trump is. It’ll be because we know him all too well.