Trump’s tweet fests fur­ther the cul­ture wars that helped him win

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - By Cath­leen Decker

LOS AN­GE­LES — Don­ald Trump’s Twit­ter wars with me­dia sites and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions have been panned by op­po­nents as over­re­ac­tions by a thin-skinned pres­i­dent-elect who prefers rhetor­i­cal skir­mish­ing to soberly build­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But Trump is ex­tend­ing what helped him win the pres­i­dency — a bat­tle against elites that se­cured the loy­alty of vot­ers out­side the coastal me­trop­o­lises, de­liv­ered di­rectly to his sup­port­ers by by­pass­ing the me­dia he con­sid­ers re­flex­ively un­fair.

It is also a tac­tic of dis­trac­tion that he is likely to use through­out the tran­si­tion and, come Jan­uary, as the na­tion’s first Twit­ter pres­i­dent.

Over the week­end, Trump’s so­cial me­dia blast against the cast of “Hamil­ton” deftly turned at­ten­tion away from bad news — a $25-mil­lion set­tle­ment in a fraud case brought by for­mer stu­dents at Trump Univer­sity and ac­cu­sa­tions of con­flicts be­tween his busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal ca­reers.

Tues­day morn­ing, a se­ries of sim­i­lar tweets crit­i­ciz­ing the New York Times shifted at­ten­tion away from new con­tro­ver­sies over whether he or those close to him had used his in­flu­ence to bol­ster his over­seas busi­ness in­ter­ests.

His tweets may have a down­side, but inar­guably de­liver a ben­e­fit: Even as Trump works to staff a gov­ern­ment that will in­evitably in­clude es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures some of his back­ers ab­hor, he is re­assert­ing his dis­rup­tive bona fides to those who sup­port him the most.

Trump’s use of Twit­ter as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions en­gine is only one of the ways he has, since his sur­prise elec­tion, worked to main­tain a di­rect line to vot­ers.

On Mon­day, he re­leased a video de­scrib­ing his plans for his first days as pres­i­dent. He as­serted that his tran­si­tion was mov­ing “very smoothly, ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively” to hire “pa­tri­ots.”

Trump is hardly the first pres­i­dent to try to by­pass tra­di­tional gate­keep­ers: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of­ten ap­peared on non­tra­di­tional for­mats while grant­ing rel­a­tively few in­ter­views to tra­di­tional me­dia. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump of­ten takes to Twit­ter to crit­i­cize The New York Times staff and its cov­er­age of his can­di­dacy and tran­si­tion.

For Trump, that ap­proach has be­come su­per­charged. He has not held a press con­fer­ence since July. Since he claimed vic­tory in the early morn­ing hours of Nov. 9, he has sat for an in­ter­view on CBS’ “60 Min­utes,” one with the Wall Street Jour­nal and, on Tues­day, with The New York Times. But he has of­fered no for­mal re­marks nor held a press con­fer­ence, un­usual for a pres­i­dent-elect.

That has given even more promi­nence to Trump’s so­cial me­dia com­ments.

Twit­ter be­came a po­tent tool for can­di­date Trump be­cause it dove­tails with the de­mands of today’s po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment: de­liv­er­ing brief, blunt state­ments that, be­cause of their pithi­ness, seem au­then­tic — truth­ful or not.

“He’s been very suc­cess­ful in de­vel­op­ing an im­age of him­self by tweet­ing,” said Pablo Bar­bera, aUniver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions who has stud­ied the use of so­cial me­dia by politi­cians.

It’s not been with­out stum­bles: At times, Trump’s use of Twit­ter to nurse griev­ances can in­ter­fere with his broader goals. A month be­fore the elec­tion, for ex­am­ple, Trump used Twit­ter to falsely ac­cuse a for­mer Miss Uni­verse of star­ring in a sex tape. (The woman had ac­cused Trump of ma­lign­ing her weight when he ran the pageant.)

In the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign, his top aides ap­peared to have taken con­trol of his Twit­ter ac­count to avoid con­tro­ver­sies.

But much of the time his tweets seem strate­gic, both in the top­ics he ad­dresses and those he avoids. He has not, for ex­am­ple, tweeted about the out­breaks of post­elec­tion vi­o­lence against gays, women and oth­ers by peo­ple pur­port­ing to be his sup­port­ers.

He has de­voted more than half a dozen tweets since Elec­tion Day to crit­i­ciz­ing re­port­ing by The New York Times, a fa­vorite tar­get of Trump and his fol­low­ers. The tweets in­cluded de­nials of state­ments that Trump clearly had made.

And he took on the mul­ti­cul­tural cast of “Hamil­ton” — ac­cus­ing it of ha­rass­ing the in­com­ing vice pres­i­dent, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The in­ci­dent in ques­tion be­gan when Pence ar­rived at the play Fri­day night to a mix­ture of ap­plause and boos. The cast did not join in the boo­ing, in­stead dis­tanc­ing them­selves from it. Af­ter the show, ac­tor Bran­don Vic­tor Dixon read a state­ment from the stage thank­ing Pence for at­tend­ing but adding that the cast rep­re­sented “the di­verse Amer­ica who are alarmed and anx­ious that your new ad­min­is­tra­tion will not pro­tect us.”

Pence later said that he was not of­fended by the boo­ing or the state­ment and praised the show. But Trump be­gan is­su­ing tweets the next morn­ing.

He in­sisted that “the cast and pro­duc­ers of Hamil­ton, which I hear is highly over­rated, should im­me­di­ately apol­o­gize to Mike Pence for their ter­ri­ble be­hav­ior.”

Pence “was ha­rassed last night at the the­ater by the cast of Hamil­ton, cam­eras blaz­ing,” he said. “This should not hap­pen!”

For Trump, tee­ing off on the cast al­lowed him to ap­pear to op­pose the New York elite he’s a mem­ber of, on be­half of some­one who isn’t.

“That’s a per­fect cul­ture war,” said Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Thad Kousser, who has stud­ied can­di­dates and so­cial me­dia.

“What Twit­ter al­lows him to do is speak di­rectly to his base in the most stir­ring terms pos­si­ble. Pick­ing a fight with ‘Hamil­ton’ is pick­ing a fight with the coastal in­tel­li­gentsia. It’s a per­fect plat­form for con­tin­u­ing to show his vot­ers why­h­e­sticks up for them against the peo­ple they feel are down on them.”

MARK LENNIHAN/AP, 2011

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