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Is Trump Unfiltered the New Normal for Presidents?

by Countable | 5.31.17

Let's be blunt: there are a whole host of characteristics that make Donald J. Trump a whole new breed of president, starting with the fact that he started his political career with the presidency.

But the fact that President Trump maintains his own personal Twitter account and has unencumbered access to it sets him apart from every one of his predecessors -- and not just because of the technology.

"This President's use of Twitter has been revealing, and opened a window into his thinking.”

Trump uses Twitter to makes policy prescriptions, circulates news that he considers real, and attacks news he considers fake. He also regularly insults other U.S. politicians and international leaders.

The president has resisted any attempts by his lawyers and staff to refrain from tweeting about topics that could affect him or his agenda legally, like ongoing Russia investigations or the intent of his executive travel ban. He even tweeted on May 12 his "active presidency" made it impossible for his media staff to always be entirely accurate in stating his positions, so perhaps better to simply cancel press briefings.

Late last night Twitter erupted in response to a tweet from President Trump. It appeared to be a typo that was then cut off mid-thought, "Despite the negative press covfefe". (Yes, we know Spellcheck. It’s not a word.) Six hours later that tweet was deleted and replaced with this:

Responses to both were largely mocking, though others defended the president for being a human who makes mistakes. Still others accused the president of using the whole incident as a distraction from the ongoing Russia investigations.

Citizens are now used to their local and state politicians having active social media presences, often that they maintain themselves. Ithaca, NY mayor Svante Myrick, who posts daily to both Facebook and Twitter and is considered a rising star in Democratic politics, weighed in on whether President Trump is setting an unusual precedent with problematic implications:

"People should have access to the direct thoughts and feelings of their elected leaders. The best way to do that will evolve with technology. FDR speaking directly to the public on the radio and Kennedy looking into the TV cameras were precedent-setting. This President's use of Twitter has been revealing, and opened a window into his thinking.”

In our swiftly changing media landscape the norms for a president’s interaction with electronic communication and social media are also changing, perhaps irreversibly. President George W. Bush famously sent out a farewell email to all his friends at the beginning of his eight years in office. Next, President Barack Obama fought tooth and nail to maintain use of his personal Blackberry for communication with close friends and his senior staff. His spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, said:

"He believe it’s a way of keeping in touch with folks, a way of doing it outside of getting stuck in a bubble”

President Obama had to agree to have various security features installed on the phone to comply with security protocols, to have the list of contacts vetted, and for all contacts to be briefed by White House counsel. Eventually he moved on from his Blackberry to a very limited smartphone with the same restrictions.

If President Obama managed to pierce the presidential bubble slightly to allow for personal communications with a select group, President Trump's Twitter feed has popped the bubble completely. Reports are even suggesting he is freely giving out his cell phone number to world leaders, suggesting that they give him a call, presenting a different, though not unrelated, set of questions

Will we ever be able to go back to a world where the president’s communication with the public is always filtered through press offices? Should we?

Should the President of the United States have an unfiltered channel for communicating with the American public and the world? Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Urbanics Group via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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