Donald Trump has always had some Internet troll in him. He loves to provoke. He often traffics in half-truths (or less). He’s a big fan of memes.
But of late – and with regard to Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation in particular – the President is embracing his inner troll. Consider how Trump spent his Wednesday morning.
First, he retweeted this from the Twitter handle “@The_Trump_Train,” which bills itself this way: “Welcome to the #TrumpTrain, the greatest political movement in history. Proud American. RT’d by @realDonaldTrump *Fan account*”
The image features a series of people behind prison bars – including special counsel Mueller, former President Barack Obama and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – with the words, “Now that Russian collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” written across the picture.
Then, Trump retweeted another tweet from the same account that read: “Illegals can get up to $3,874 a month under Federal Assistance program. Our social security checks are on average $1200 a month. RT if you agree: If you weren’t born in the United States, you should receive $0 assistance.” (Fact check: Not true!)
Then, Trump retweeted a set of month-old tweets from conservative commentators – Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk – featuring Hillary Clinton cracking a joke after Recode’s Kara Swisher mixed up Eric Holder and Cory Booker. “I know they all look alike,” Clinton joked of the two African-American men.
The common thread on all of this Trump Twitter activity? Conservative troll work. All of these notions – that the Mueller probe is illegal and the people involved in its formation should be jailed, the false claim about the sort of government aid an undocumented immigrant is eligible to receive, the implied media toleration of racism by Democratic politicians – have been kicking around the fever swamps of the conservative Internet right for a while now.
Trump has done this before. In December 2017, he retweeted an image showing the “CNN” logo squashed on his shoe. A few months earlier, Trump drew national headlines by retweeting an image of a “Trump train” running over a person who had the CNN logo for a head. There are other examples but, well, you get the idea.
“I love Twitter…. it’s like owning your own newspaper— without the losses,” Trump tweeted in 2012.
“Tweeting is like a typewriter — when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show,” Trump told Fox Business Network in 2017. “I doubt I would be here if weren’t for social media, to be honest with you.” He added: “When somebody, says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it. The other way, I would never be get the word out.”
So why does Trump use his immense social media power to tweet out fringe right memes and other ephemera from the dark depths of the Internet? Because, well, that’s who he is. He believes himself to be the victim of an unnamed group of elites who have laughed at him behind their hands for his entire life, who have turned the wheels of power against him and who have tried like hell to make him not matter.
The presidency and his Twitter account – and, yes, I think he believes them to be of somewhat equal importance – allow Trump to both level the playing field and make his enemies feel the sting of his wrath. That his whole vanquishing-your-enemies thing is not presidential or not the sort of behavior any of us would teach our children is of no concern to Trump. He does it because it makes him feel good and, because, he believes it works.
In the wake of a firestorm caused by Trump’s attacks on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski for allegedly “bleeding badly from a face-lift” last summer, the President defended himself – via Twitter – by arguing:
“The FAKE & FRAUDULENT NEWS MEDIA is working hard to convince Republicans and others I should not use social media - but remember, I won the 2016 election with interviews, speeches and social media. I had to beat #FakeNews, and did. We will continue to WIN!”
He added: “My use of social media is not Presidential - it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!”
Which, honestly, says it all. Donald Trump is a president who acts like an Internet troll. He finds nuggets, shapes them to his liking and then shares them. Facts, context and fairness are secondary concerns – if they are concerns at all.
The big difference between Trump and your average Internet troll? He has 56 million followers. Which makes what he is doing very, very dangerous.