Paulson: Twitter is the perfect medium for Donald Trump
Due to our rabid adoption of attention-filching mobile devices, the human attention span is now purported to be less than that of a goldfish. I would provide a link to substantiate this fact, but if you clicked it you might forget about this article.
Russia. The Wall. Kylie Jenner's prodigious derrière. There's no hierarchy of importance on the ubiquitous, hyperactive medium that we interact with more than anything or anyone else in our lives. It's no accident that Donald Trump, a candidate and now president made on grandiose plans, specious claims and plainspoken lies, chose Twitter, a frenetic "safe space" for the attention challenged, as his blow horn. It's just enough room for bluster without any left for explication. Perfect for a man whose most enticing campaign promise was to "BUILD. A. WALL."
Trump claims he uses the service because Twitter allows him unprecedented "direct access" to the American people, but Americans have been accustomed to something of a personal relationship with their president since Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats. The problem has not been about access for decades. Trump can use any platform he wants (even those of the much maligned "fake" news) to speak to his countrymen uninterrupted. Why then, does a self-proclaimed "very smart guy" choose such a limited form?
Tweets don't allow for substantiation or verification of their validity, and their obligatory terseness negates the expectation that it be offered. His 140 characters can accommodate a sentence or two and perhaps a brief ancillary comment, such as the infamous "Sad!" employed by Mr. Trump when he really wants to hit home. This allows him to make bold claims without being bogged down by facts, logic or explanation that would be warranted by longer-form media. On Twitter, Trump can acceptably jump from insult to ingratiation to international policy in minutes. As unpresidential and inappropriate as it may be, he is using the service correctly. It would seem, however, that such a medium might still be less than ideal for the president, whose communication requires consummate tact, clarity and accuracy.
If the man wants to connect to us directly, get him a podcast, a blog, a 10,000-word weekly corrective column in all the media outlets he decries. Let him dazzle us with his compendium of knowledge about how exactly he plans to make 'Er Great Again when the "Dems" stop obstructing. Let him explicate his plans for the wall and assuage our concern about Russia. Let him tell us whatever he wants, whenever he wants and let him tell us all of it, unencumbered by the limitations of the microblog.
Within a substantive medium, Trump's myopia would undoubtedly be exposed. His campaign succeeded because of galvanizing but unrealistic claims, deft deflection, and possibly most importantly, his Twitter, where he dictated a shallow, aggrandizing dialogue. The success of his presidency, the one progressing behind the smoke screen of his intractable antics, now hinges on our ability to keep track of it.
There's a popular meme often posted in reply to Trump's tweets of the president behind a machine gun, firing digital 'Twitter birds' in an attack on the dread "MSM" or "mainstream media." It's not them he's attacking. It's us. The attack on the media is merely another distraction utilized in his subterfuge. The Trump administration has weaponized America's inability to focus. In our schizoid world of tabbed browsing, incessant notification and Twitter, the loudest, most emphatic voice drowns out the drawl of a million others. Obstreperous Russia scandal aside, his tweets determine what we talk about, and consequently (given the rate at which he says something shocking) for how long. We get Trump's message, loud and clear. It may embolden his supporters and outrage everyone else, but we all hear it, even over the clamor of the veritable war for our attention. We are tuned into what they — whoever is capitalizing on the Trump subterfuge at the moment — want us to be.
It seems obvious that deleting Trump's account would clear some of the smoke. However, Twitter may never have the grounds to delete Trump's account, and it wouldn't matter much at this point because his supporters are part of the MAGA phagocyte. Their facile commentary does everything Trump himself wants to accomplish with his own Twitter: keep us distracted through cheap inspiriting and misdirected rage. Its creators do, however, have the power to shut down the site entirely and help stem the attention epidemic that lead to his election. Short-form content already cost us the White House. If left unmitigated, it very well may cost us the country.
Garth Paulson lives in Beaverton.