The Tweet President

If the emperor wants to communicate with the people, he issues an edict, elegantly worded, drawn up by aides. Trump in contrast tweets even as he processes information. He shares his thoughts with his audience as they enter his mind. First to his Twitter following. Then, seconds later, on CNN and everywhere else. Anyone studying the timeline of tweets can get a good sense of Trump’s daily schedule and speculate on when he grabs pussy or makes time for his daily intelligence briefings.

At about 7:00 his morning Trump suddenly tweets out that nobody should burn the American flag, and that those who do should be denied citizenship or jailed. Media heads started calling it pandering to his base. They’re calling it weird, out of the blue. David Corn says it “makes Trump look fascistic.” Are you worried yet?

Looks to me like an egomaniac–who was suddenly, unexpectedly propelled into power, with no idea of how to proceed; obliged from the outset to abandon key campaign positions (as a twinkly-eyed Giuliani explained: “There’s a tradition in American politics of after the election putting things behind you”); annoyed by the complexity of cabinet selection and that unexpected task of having to select all new White House staff; revealing in his short list of choices for secretary of state (including Tulsi Gabbard, John Bolton, Mike Romney and David Petraeus) not so much a broad mind as a the muddled brain of someone lacking principle; overwhelmed by the challenge of reconciling his business interests with his new post and the law; someone in over his head, already eager to delegate authority to others the way Reagan did–an egomaniac appealing to the masses for love and attention. The campaign rallies are over. He misses the love.

He could tweet about Aleppo. He could congratulate the Syrian state forces supported by the Russians for retaking a large portion of the city from al-Qaeda-led forces, insuring that as of January the longstanding neocon-liberal interventionist game plan for regime change in Syria will become simply impossible and allowing for an international force to drive ISIL from northeastern Syria.

A combustible mix of besiegers is amassing around Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital. It includes autonomy-seeking Kurds working with the U.S.; the resurgent Syrian Arab Army and its Iranian, Iraqi Shiite, and Hezbollah allies; and Turks, adamant about keeping out the Kurds. You’d think Trump might comment.

But the president-elect’s maybe not sure what he thinks about that situation, actually, and his advisors differ on it. Best to put it off and reconnect with the masses and announce today’s topic for discussion.

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag,” Donald posts to his Twitter account, “if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

“Yeah!” roars his supporter, or so he hopes. “Lock ’em up!” Those feeling a little chagrined by Trump’s backing off on the Muslim ban and the Mexico wall and prosecuting Hillary and denying human contributions to global warming may find this latest pronouncement reassuring. And it is now news. Legal specialists are being interviewed on the Texas v. Johnson Supreme Court case of 1989. Donald is determining the meaningless morning news agenda.

Look forward to the Tweet Presidency. The president communicating with the world like you interface with Facebook friends. Casually, with lots of cute abbreviations. Stream of consciousness.

We will be uniquely privileged to follow, if not his thoughts, his moods. Could that not be his downfall? He seems less security-conscious than Hillary. He is already facing a largely hostile press, that will question or ridicule some of his tweets. His dependence on them makes him seem childish to many, one would hope, most; they surely cause the Angela Merkels of the world to question his judgment. One plus in this is that U.S. prestige is declining in the world.

Why is this happening today? they’re asking on CNN. My theory on why this tweet, now.

Texas vs. Johnson ruled that Joey Johnson, a member of what was then the youth organization of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, was exercising his constitutional rights when he burned a U.S. flag outside the Republican National Convention center Dallas in 1984. Currently the RCP is participating in demonstrations rejecting Trump’s legitimacy as president–and specifically labeling it a “fascist presidency.” Its supporters, including Johnson, have also burned flags in some demonstrations, including those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, which some of Trump’s advisors actually describe as “terrorist.”

Trump has displayed a vindictive nature. It is the flip-side of his insistence on loyalty, one manifestation of his egocentrism. He has famously insisted on his need to punch back against every attack, often responding to principled criticism with infantile, schoolyard-bully taunts and crude insinuations. In contrast he responds to sycophants with patronizing benevolence.

As president Trump will likely lash out, using potentially unbridled powers, to punish those who most seriously oppose him. The RCP, whatever one might think of it, is certainly in that vanguard. To suddenly focus on this obscure flag-burning issue is to draw attention to the existence of serious left radicals, who have the audacity to reject the system itself—that is, the capitalist system that Trump so embodies. Why would he want to do that?

Why would he want to draw a clear line between his base, who for some reason have positive feelings for that flag—and the billions on the planet who see that flag and think bombs, drone strikes, wars based on lies, botched occupations, Wall Street-driven globalization, police killings of unarmed blacks caught on cell phones, attacks on the environment and cultural backwardness? Let us just imagine.

Maybe what Corn calls Trump’s “dumb tweet” was designed to produce a broader wave of flag-burning, and violent reactions to flag-burning, more polarization, and a dialectic pitting on the one hand youth honed by the Occupy and BLM movements, opposed to imperialist war and Wall Street (like many Trump voters, actually), challenging white-nationalist racism, sexism and homophobia; and on the other hand the neofascists chomping at the bit to show their patriotism and White Pride by responding to their president’s call, defending that flag and bloodying any “communists” wanting to desecrate it.

Trump will watch from his Tower, enjoying the fray, tweeting encouragement or warning his storm troops to “stop!” as Bonner and his other handlers, feuding among themselves, advise him. Perhaps (unless someone takes him in hand and discourages his habit) during the Tweet Presidency we will awaken to Trump’s latest tweet (“breaking news”) and round table discussion–with the usual senior editor and think-tank experts–about what it means, as social contradictions become ever more explosive.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.