ALL ABOUT ‘COVFEFE’
Trump’s tweet gives us a giggle, but it’s ‘one more stupid thing’ that distracts us from what matters.
Was the president’s seemingly random tweet a distraction, or a cause for concern?
At 9:06 Pacific time Tuesday evening (12:06 a.m. Wednesday on the East Coast), President Trump, as he does sometimes, sent a tweet:
“Despite the constant negative press covfefe” That was it. Was the president OK? Did he drop his phone into some water? Did it explode midtweet? Were aides trying to wrestle the device away from him and someone accidentally hit “send” on a half-written message? Why did he wait more than five hours before deleting it? What is covfefe? These were the questions the Internet collectively asked, not very seriously, as more than 125,000 users retweeted the cryptic dispatch from the most powerful person in the world.
Covfefe had become one of those exhausting cultural events that, from time to time, inspires a collective response so that we feel in contact with each other, or at least do not feel left out. Parker Higgins was among those who joined in.
“Like many people I have blocked the President of the United States on Twitter because he is literally an internet troll,” Higgins, a 29-year-old artist and activist from San Francisco, wrote in a private message on Twitter, where he has changed his last name to “Higgfefe.” “So when he creates news by tweeting, I only see it by the timeline’s reaction, like how scientists observe black holes.”
Higgins, who sometimes designs T-shirts, saw the storm of covfefe jokes Tuesday night and immediately knew a Trump tweet was the source of the madness. He spent “literally 25 seconds” to design a black “covfefe” T-shirt, with the word in white Helvetica font, as his contribution.
“Here buy a shirt that says covfefe,” Higgins tweeted, posting a link to the design he’d uploaded to teespring.com, where the shirts could be ordered for $20.
It was a joke. Higgins said later, “I prayed people had the good sense not to buy it because it would leave me in an ethical dilemma of what to do with the proceeds.” But people did not have good sense. Higgins has sold dozens of shirts.
“I’m already an ACLU donor, but maybe I’ll increase it this month,” Higgins told The Times. “Or put it in a healthcare fund or something. Who knows.”
He added, “Everything’s stupid, and this is one more stupid thing.”
On Wednesday morning Trump’s covfefe tweet vanished from his account, and other news began creeping from beneath its shadow online. Ninety people were reported killed and 400 injured in a car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reports circulated that Trump was thinking of abandoning the Paris accord, a global pact to fight climate change.
But the memory lingered. Morning talk show hosts talked about covfefe. News organizations churned out stories about covfefe.
The president joined in, tweeting a new message about covfefe, but didn’t offer an explanation:
“Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’??? Enjoy!”
At a news briefing later in the day, a reporter asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer about covfefe. “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer said.
Other reporters raised their voices in disbelief, pressing questions that Spicer ignored.
Media theorist Neil Postman, in his 1985 classic, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business,” wrote that society has long braced itself to fight tyranny. But that, he warned, is not the only threat to society and culture.
“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us,” Postman wrote. “But who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”
How do you pronounce covfefe?