Donald Trump Is Tweeting Us into WWIII. But Is It Even Him?

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“There’s always a tweet” has been the axiom of the Trump era, the definitive proof that almost any ridiculous thing the president says or does will have been preceded by an accusation that someone else was doing it. It’s as true as “There’s always a bigger fish” or “There’s always money in the banana stand.” There’s even a dedicated Twitter account that dredges up scattered thoughts from the pile of broken shopping carts that is Trump’s mind, whether it’s about the deficit or North Korea or whatever accidental truth this habitual liar completely forgot he uttered.

It’s not especially soothing to know that the president of the United States projects his own emotions and insecurities onto political opponents with all the sophistication of a five-year-old extending an index finger two inches from your face and screaming, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” That’s never been more true than now. In the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian military officer Qassem Soleimani, the president — in between railing that impeachment is a hoax and a coup — has been goading us ever closer to World War III.

But what if it’s not really him doing it?

We know for a fact that Trump does not write all his tweets and never has. But as he’s consolidated power over the death-cult that used to be a functioning right-of-center political party, his actual tweets have grown more unhinged, making it pretty clear when a low-level aide is cranking out the banal, ceremonial stuff

The idea that “Donald Trump” is actually a composite character hasn’t really seemed to gain much traction outside the data-driven realms of internet journalism. And while Donald Trump the person cries foul when “Donald Trump” gets edited out of Home Alone 2 for time — which happened in 2014, but did anyone really believe the Canadian Broadcasting Network? I did not, and I’m just fine with it — it’s not always clear who’s really using that un-secured phone to get the word out. 

Dan Scavino is the White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President — he initially met Trump while caddying for him — and only one of four people in the administration who have managed to stay on since the beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015. Based on his title alone, he’s a good candidate for ghost-tweeter, plus his golf-based proximity to Trump would seemingly allow Scavino to mimic the president’s erratic, bombastic style. But whoever it is, they’re an educated person who occasionally hyper-corrects when trying to mask their own intellect.

“These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!” — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020

I am convinced that the president did not write this. 

When he’s at his rallies, Trump rambles on and on about toilets having to flush 15 times and “never understanding wind” and the wall has to be clear so we can see when Mexicans hurl bags of drugs over it. But in his tweets, he’s angry and declarative, his sentences only turning into run-ons when he piles so much anger and declaration in them. This isn’t like that at all.

Let’s take it apart. First, it was his only tweet on Jan. 5, while he was still on vacation at Mar-a-Lago, and he usually tweets (and retweets) in bursts. Second, the phrasing doesn’t sound like him. Has he ever used the phrase “Media Posts” before? I don’t believe the president typically refers to his tweets as “tweets,” either, so whoever came up with that work-around threw two simple words together, then capitalized them for no reason except to sound super-duper-Trumpy. 

Third, Trump would not use the word “should” in that sense. (In grammatical terms, he does not set off subordinate clauses with the subjunctive mood. Way too complicated!) Lastly, all those ampersands indicate that whoever wrote this was much more keenly aware of the 280-character limit than Trump usually is. They wanted to get the message across pithily, in a single tweet. So, probably after some tweaking and editing, they realized they said what they needed to without breaching the limit, then threw in “nevertheless” for that extra rhetorical punch. Trump probably would have said “anyway.” 

In short, he didn’t write it. This is profoundly scary, because “Donald Trump” explicitly told the world he’s going to do what he wants without listening to anybody and if that launches WWIII, then too bad, you shouldn’t have provoked him in the first place. “Madman Theory,” as Richard Nixon put it — but maybe not even coming directly from the madman, just an unelected lackey doing what he thinks the boss wants. Sure would be nice if Twitter could develop an analytical tool to let us know for sure.

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Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane (they/them) is the Communications Manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor of SF Weekly.