President Donald Trump has long used Twitter to define – and defame – his political opponents, but about 20 months into his presidency it’s become blindingly clear that his use of social media to target critics, disloyal former lieutenants and the media tells us more about him than anyone else.
Trump’s attacks took a particularly dehumanizing turn in late August, when he called former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, the only African-American to serve in a senior role in his White House, a “dog.” On Tuesday, he went back to the same fetid well to describe adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a tweet as “Horseface.”
Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has directly insulted, attacked or otherwise maligned more than 100 individuals, according to our unscientific review of his feed. And that doesn’t account for his broadsides against the FBI and other institutions in and outside of government. (Hat tip to this New York Times compendium, which traces back to before his candidacy.)
The numbers can only tell us so much. As an example, of the roughly 82 men he’s tweeted negatively about by name, 69 are white. More than a dozen are not. But that doesn’t account for the three UCLA basketball players he criticized as not sufficiently grateful – “I should have left them in jail!” he tweeted – for his intervention following their arrest for shoplifting in China last year.
Nor does it include the estimated 200 NFL players – almost all of them black – who have knelt or in some other way protested racial inequality and police brutality during the National Anthem and been assailed by the President for it.
Trump has repeatedly attacked the protesters, accusing them, as he did in an October 2017 tweet, of “showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country.” But the calculation plainly ran deeper than his stated reasoning. As he told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, according to a deposition given by Jones and reported by the Wall Street Journal, “This is a very winning, strong issue for me.”
“Tell everybody,” the President said, in an apparent reference to other owners and league officials, “you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”
By Trump’s definition, whether it’s the NFL or the investigations, and investigators, into Russian election interference, what “lifts” him tends to be synonymous with what lays others low – especially if it’s by his own hand, or tweeting digit(s).
Of the 24 women he has gone after specifically, 17 are white and 12 were over 50 years of age at the time, according to our count. But his attacks on older women (by our arbitrary definition) and those of color have been memorably visceral. As an example, while Trump is fond of saying this or that person behaved in some way “like a dog,” since becoming President he has referred to only one person as a dog: Manigault Newman. (Trump called Arianna Huffington “a dog who wrongfully comments on me” a few months before beginning his 2016 campaign.)
You can decide where his “Horseface” insult – directed against a woman – fits on the spectrum.
In June 2017, Trump singled out then 50-year-old Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in a tweet disparaging her appearance and intellect:
Trump has also used the “low IQ” insult against actor Robert De Niro and, a few weeks later, Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who is black. More recently, he went after a pair of black men who have been critical, NBA star LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon, saying that Lemon – whom he called “the dumbest man on television” – made James “look smart, which isn’t easy to do.”
During his time on the job, the President has singled out on Twitter at least two corporate CEOs: Ken Frazier of the pharmaceutical giant Merck, who is black, and Disney’s Bob Iger, who is white.
No individual, however, has popped up more in Trump’s feed than Hillary Clinton. And this count began after the 2016 election.
Trump has used the phrase “Crooked Hillary” more than 60 times since taking office.
By comparison, “Fake News” clocks in with 275 appearances and “Witch Hunt” at 127. Special counsel Robert Mueller, either directly or in reference to his team, has been named in around 43 tweets. (A second hat tip here to the Trump Twitter Archive.)
Attacks on a pair of female figures, both with connections to men Trump has sought to discredit in relation to the Russia probe, have also brought attention to the way he addresses women – thinly cloaking his obvious contempt with loaded allusions to their appearances.
The President has twice described former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who exchanged critical texts about Trump during the 2016 campaign with the since-fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, as “the lovely Lisa Page.” The first such tweet came on August 1 and the second on August 11, the same day the President described Nellie Ohr, a former Fusion GPS contractor married to career Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, as his “beautiful wife.”
Before entering the White House, Trump tended to be more direct with his insults, as former Fox News host Megyn Kelly noted during the first Republican primary debate. Perhaps this is, after all, his version of “presidential.”
“While I know it’s ‘not presidential’ to take on a lowlife like Omarosa,” he tweeted on August 13, “and while I would rather not be doing so, this is a modern day form of communication and I know the Fake News Media will be working overtime to make even Wacky Omarosa look legitimate as possible. Sorry!”
This story has been updated.