Donald J. Trump would not be where he is today without the unifying power of social media. As ironic as that is for a man whose presidential candidacy is tearing at the fabric of the GOP and our democratic process, his ability to use Twitter as a bully pulpit is opening doors and facilitating his leadership position in the primary election. It’s simple: a Trump with a Twitter has republicans on the run and America afraid of the future. He has tapped into the fear and loathing politics of the republican party and has successfully built mostly white and male fringe haters into a mainstream and powerful entity. If you wonder where all this comes from, consider how the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News – and the Party itself have stoked the flames of intolerance. Trump has become the living, breathing embodiment of all that which came before.
Marshaling it into an actual force to be reckoned with is simply not possible without the reach of social media. From the beginning of this long and increasingly horrible election cycle, Trump has used Twitter to attack, bully and position his message of divisive politics. Without the power of the platform, his commentary about Megyn Kelly after the first republican debate would have lost steam and been relegated to an amusing anecdote in the annals of Trumpological Lunacy. Instead, he was empowered to hide behind the firewall of his social media supporters, reattack, reapproach and recover from the embarrassment of his live comments. Since that first debate, this has been his pattern, one that increasingly defines his entire campaign strategy:
- Get crushed on the debate stage. Or say something stupid to the press.
- Don’t apologize. Double down on Twitter, using social media bully tactics to attack, evade and reframe the discussion at a level of depth that suits his shallow understanding of the issues.
- Leverage the size and tendencies of his social media audience by continuing school yard taunts such as #littlemarco – a term that came straight from the debate stage.
- Reassert his leadership, his brand and galvanize his supporters for the next primary or debate.
With this model, he can say anything he wants. Anything. And it works. He is a true Teflon candidate; his supporters equate hate to strength and ignorance to independence. That calculus isn’t new: many a politician has used it to cast a “maverick” image or a “hockey mom” point of view. And that’s not the platform’s fault. Social media channels are today’s citizen journalist/activist/messenger, with a broad array of unharnessed power to build cohesion among like-minded people. Social media molds and forms the way we think and feel, the way we engage and even what our social positions are on a broad spectrum of issues. Sadly, a thin and spiteful personality like Donald Trump is at his best here, because the channel breeds such characters through its top soil approach to context.
If you were to take the power of social media away from Donald Trump, you would have a hate monger with no megaphone, no leverage and no ability to sustain a political campaign past super Tuesday. You would have a chubby, insecure guy with small fingers and a big plane. With it, he may well be the first President of the United States – brought to you by Twitter. Because no one likes to think beyond 140 characters anymore.