The tweets that have defined Donald Trump's presidency

The President will likely continue to shape policy and public opinion in 280 characters 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Wednesday 17 January 2018 19:30
comments
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed in June 2017 that Mr Trump’s tweets should be ‘considered official statements’ by the US President
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed in June 2017 that Mr Trump’s tweets should be ‘considered official statements’ by the US President

US President Donald Trump’s time in office has been nothing if not controversial, with a number of issues arriving in large part thanks to his use of Twitter.

From his first day in office, he has used the platform to speak about everything from relations with Russia, China and North Korea – causing global concern about his passion for sharing diplomacy in 280 characters – as well as attacking his enemies and railing against the US court system.

His output has ranged from the serious, to the ridiculous – see the reaction to his tweeting of the non-word “covfefe”. But, however erratic the tweets may have appeared at times there is no doubt Mr Trump has achieved a connection with the public – for good or ill – that few world leaders can match.

There were also recurring themes like assigning demeaning nicknames to his adversaries: Crooked Hillary [Clinton], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Sloppy Steve [Bannon], among others.

Among his 2,593 tweets in the last year, he has tweeted 103 times disparaging various media outlets, 105 times about Russia, called his defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton “crooked” 37 times, and used his signature hashtag #MAGA or some form of “Make America Great Again” 105 times.

While critics have felt the dignity of the office of the president has been diminished, Mr Trump has his supporters on the micro-blogging platform – including a number of right-wing commentators, but also thousands of regular users as well.

“Official” Presidential statements 

Mr Trump hit the ground running as soon as he was sworn into office. He began by using both his official @POTUS – President of the United States – account but it quickly became apparent he would defer to using his personal @realdonaldtrump account for much of his public outreach. 

Mr Trump’s tweets, even deleted ones, are saved as part of the country’s official record that goes to the National Archives and Records Administration. Former President Barack Obama’s Twitter account has also be archived.

Senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway had criticised the media for having “this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what of he does as President”.

However, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had confirmed in June 2017 that Mr Trump’s tweets should be “considered official statements” by the US President.

Mr Spicer said in his news briefing that Mr Trump is his own “most effective representative of his agenda”.

Twitter “gives him the opportunity to speak to the American people...the same people critiquing him now,” did so during the election, Mr Spicer noted.

Mr Spicer said it turned out to be “a very effective tool”.

Closing the borders to Mexicans and Muslims

His first week in office saw Mr Trump sign an executive order banning travellers to the US from six Muslim-majority countries – even if they had valid visas – effective immediately. It was part of his strategy to secure the US borders.

It sparked nationwide protests at airports, with thousands of people welcoming travellers and offering free legal assistance for those who needed it.

The travel ban was halted by two federal district courts citing religious discrimination but was – after adding Venezuela and North Korea and removing Iraq – ultimately allowed to be enforced by the US Supreme Court for the time being.

Mr Trump’s tweets grew increasingly against open immigration and courts’ checks on the executive branch as the debate progressed, each time drawing protests and public outcry.

But the debate on immigration raged on with the proposed 2,000-mile border wall with Mexico. The campaign trail was filled with chants of “Build the wall!” and Mr Trump’s claims that Mexico would pay for it.

A year later, there is no new wall as yet and no real estimates on how much this would cost. However, the President has tied US funding of the wall – despite his continued claims that Mexico will pay for it – to the passing of a federal budget.

For now, the Department of Homeland Security has been shopping for prototypes for various sections of the wall.

Wiretapping and surveillance confusion

Every politician has to criticise the policies of their predecessors to a certain extent – it is par for the course. However, many felt that Mr Trump’s claims about Mr Obama allegedly having Trump Tower wiretapped had gone too far.

The March 2017 claim was baseless according to later testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, who said there was no evidence of any listening equipment in the President’s former Manhattan residence and office building.

It still remains unclear how and from whom Mr Trump “found out” the information that led to the false tweet.

Recently, Mr Trump also tweeted about the subject of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as well. On 16 January, the Senate voted on limiting the debate regarding extension the programme giving the National Security Agency the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance.

It was a win for Mr Trump, but he had tweeted about FISA legislation just one week prior, once again bringing up his frequent criticism of the US intelligence community and his apparent practice of stream of consciousness-tweeting.

James Comey gets sacked

On 9 May, Mr Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was in charge of a federal investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election, which had expanded to include investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign team members and Russian officials.

Mr Comey’s sacking led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation, which is still continuing.

In typical fashion, the signs of Mr Comey’s impending firing and the fallout had played out on Twitter.

In a July 2017 testimony in front of Congress, Mr Comey now infamously stated: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Comey on his conversations with Trump: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes"

Mr Comey said in his opening statement to Congress that months before he was fired, Mr Trump had said, in regards to his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” The White House has denied Mr Trump making such remarks

In December 2017, Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.

One of the areas Mr Mueller and his team is said to be looking into is the potential for obstruction of justice to have taken place in relation to Mr Comey’s firing.

Mr Comey had previously revived an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server 11 days ahead of the 2016 election, having cleared her of any wrongdoing that summer. Mr Comey then cleared Ms Clinton a second time two days before the presidential election.

Mr Comey later said in front of Congress that had he known the firestorm it would cause he would have exercised more caution.

The US had “bad deals” before Mr Trump came into office

President Trump put a heavy emphasis on his ability to negotiate advantageous business deals while on the campaign trail and promised to extricate the US from what he deemed were “unfair” and “bad deals” when it came to multi-lateral organisations and agreements. He has tweeted something about “deals” 68 times in the last year.

One such deal was the Paris Agreement on climate change which was signed under the Obama administration by nearly 200 countries in an effort to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming to 2C.

In June 2017, Mr Trump began the withdrawal process with much fanfare and declared that the accord put American workers at an “economic disadvantage”. Curiously, his only tweet on the matter was sharing a Fox News piece that connected a rise in stock prices with the withdrawal.

Last week, he had said the US could “go back” into the accord, meaning the withdrawal procedure would be halted for the world’s second-largest polluter. Mr Trump has not publicly confirmed whether he believes in climate change, but had called it a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.

The “bad deals” theme has been consistent for the President and he applied it to the US relationship with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) as well. His tweets demonstrated a basic misunderstanding of Nato policy – no country pays for the defence of any other member but they do all pledge to dedicate two per cent of their GDPs to their own defence and military.

His speech at Nato headquarters also demonstrated that as he admonished allies for not paying their “fair share” as if Nato contained a common pool of money. The main “mutual defence” concept through Nato is that an attack on one ally is seen as an attack on all – also called Article 5.

It has only been invoked once in the organisation’s history, in the wake of 9/11. Mr Trump failed to recognise a commitment to Article 5 in his speech as he stood in front of a memorial to victims of the World Trade Centre attack, before later re-affirming his support for the clause.

Taking “both sides” after the Charlottesville protests

Amid the concerns over Russia, there was also unrest at home just a short drive from Washington DC. On 12 August a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent, resulting in three deaths: protester Heather Heyer, and two Virginia State police officers Berke MM Bates and H Jay Cullen.

Mr Trump had given conflicting statements in the wake of the protests, which began with white nationalists and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, a Civil War Confederate General who fought to keep the practice of slavery during America’s bloodiest war. Counter-protesters like Ms Heyer were there to support the statue’s removal, as had been ordered by the city.

Ms Heyer was killed by a car being driven into a crowd of counterprotesters, with a 20-year-old man facing charges over her death.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly watches on nervously at Trump's Charlottesville press briefing

Pressured by advisers, President Trump had taken a step back from the dispute and condemned far-right extremist groups, two days after he had enraged many by declining to single out white supremacists and neo-Nazis as part of the problem.

Yet he returned to his combative stance later – insisting anew that “both sides” were to blame. And then in a burst of tweets he renewed his criticism of efforts to remove memorials and tributes to the Civil War Confederacy.

“Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish,” Mr Trump tweeted.

General Lee himself opposed erecting statues and monuments commemorating the Confederates after losing the war, saying that he felt it left the wounds of war open as the country was healing and coming together.

“Fake News” is one of his favourite phrases

Since taking office, Mr Trump has used the phrase “fake news” – also a rallying cry on the campaign trail – in 158 of his tweets and that is not counting numerous other attacks on mainstream media outlets.

The New York Times and Washington Post appeared to be the main targets of ire towards the fourth estate but his favoured Fox News has been spared the same online wrath.

One of his more notable digs was at CNN. Mr Trump tweeted a video of himself during a 2007 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) appearance during which he play-fights a man in a suit, only in the video the man’s face is replaced by a CNN logo.

He tweeted it from his personal account and then re-tweeted it on the official @POTUS account, meaning it will be saved to the National Archives as part of the official record of his term.

He had branded the network as “#FraudNewsNetwork” in the tweet, which has been shared over 300,000 times.

Tom Bossert, Homeland Security Adviser, said on ABC that “no one would perceive that as a threat”.

“I do think that he’s beaten up in a way on cable platforms that he has a right to respond to,” said Mr Bossert, adding that critics were following a pattern of attacking the President by taking it too seriously.

CNN advert attacks Trump

Of course, there have been errors made by reporters during the Trump administration as there have been during every President’s time in office. However, Mr Trump has taken it upon himself to sometimes chastise these members of the media personally as well, like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

His administration is now also set to look towards potentially amending US libel laws.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Mr Trump said during a White House meeting on earlier this month.

Digital diplomacy

While Twitter has been a powerful tool for many diplomats to engage with people outside of their embassies or with counterparts in foreign countries, Mr Trump has caused a stir with his tweeted statements about US relations with several countries but particularly concerning are his missives on North Korea.

The hermit kingdom and its mysterious and mercurial leader Kim Jong-un had been a thorn in the President’s side throughout his first year in office with repeated tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and US intelligence reports that suggested North Korea had developed a nuclear-capable warhead.

Back in October 2017, North Korea has said they are not interested in diplomatic solutions to its tensions with the US until it develops a missile capable of reaching the east coast of America as well.

In the early months in office, the President took to Twitter to express his frustration with a lack of help from China to deter the nuclear threat but as tests continued the tweets grew more personal – as attacks against Mr Kim himself.

Soon, Mr Kim had been given a nickname, “Rocket Man,” and the President referred to him as such in his first official address to the United Nations days after this tweet.

Then, internal administration politics came out in Mr Trump’s tweets about his advice to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to “waste his time” with diplomacy. Mr Trump’s remarks were increasingly hinting at military options on the Korean peninsula, a possibility that China, South Korea, Japan, and several US officials have cautioned against.

“Sloppy Steve” turns from ally to villain after a tell-all book is published

As the year came to a close, the headlines and controversy did not. In December, journalist Michael Wolff authored a book called Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

The explosive tell-all, which purported that White House staff regularly questioned Mr Trump’s mental health, prompted swift denials from the President who called it “untruthful” and “phony”.

According to the book’s author, the former White House strategist and Breitbart News executive Mr Bannon said the President’s son Donald Trump Jr was “treasonous” and his meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the height of the 2016 campaign was “unpatriotic”.

Mr Bannon issued an apology, effusive with praise for Mr Trump Jr after the President’s tweets referring to his former staffer as “Sloppy Steve”.

The tweets also addressed how Mr Wolff was able to write the book. Mr Wolff claimed he conducted 200 interviews including Mr Trump and took, according to him, “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” to do so.

Fire and Fury went on sale days earlier than planned and publishers are rushing to print more copies in order to meet high demands.

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