COLUMN: Trump’s Twitter diplomacy brilliant, dangerous leap in negotiation

Republican lawmakers attempted to use a vote on House rules last week to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics — an independent watchdog panel that polices Capitol Hill.

News of the motion went viral on Jan. 2. People from both parties were outraged. By the morning of Jan. 3, the idea was demonized and made an unlikely enemy in President-elect Donald J. Trump. 

In a fit of Twitter fury, Trump lambasted party leaders for pushing a measure that was diametrically opposed to his half-hearted promise to end Congressional corruption.

Within hours, House Republicans scrapped the plan and decided to keep the panel. It was Trump’s first real test in political negotiation. It was highly public and nastily worded — and boy did it work.

Now, observers are left to wonder how Trump transformed his ability to sway opinion with 140 characters or less into an effective strategy for domestic diplomacy. The advancement is fascinating and frightening, creating opportunities and dangerous caveats for both Trump and his successors.

It’s easy to become stupefied by Trump’s apparent mastery of the tweet, or his use of social media to derail complicated policies. However, the tactic isn’t new or particularly nuanced either. The art of direct emotional appeal aided by emerging technologies is the oldest weapon in American politics. 

The printing press allowed our Founding Fathers to build support for a federal government. The radio allowed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to calm Americans in life during wartime. And it was President John F. Kennedy who trounced the formidable Richard Nixon on live TV because he was more attractive and better prepared.

Using social media for anything other than political weaponry seems counter-intuitive for world leaders in the Social Age. The president-elect realized some time before his candidacy that damnations and rare moments of praise on Twitter resonate with average people more than any newspaper op-ed or press conference.

So what if he comes off as a petulant troll? That's the "art of the deal." The point was made. People are talking about it, and complex policies went viral because they were spoken in boorish and plain English.

Trump tweets stopped a measure that could harm all Americans. For that, he should be applauded. What makes his tweets dangerous is how fast they mobilize anger and resentment. And if he can gain support from those outside his base, much like he did with the ethics vote, Trump’s social edicts can quickly become mandate.

The president-elect can try dissenters in the court of public opinion without formal charges or evidence. It’s why he won the primaries, and the election, Russian hacking notwithstanding. 

If that’s not the definition of autocratic manipulation, I don’t know what is.

If Trump continues to use social strategies as political leverage, he will undoubtedly deliver on at least one campaign promise to shake up Washington — no matter the outcome, no matter the cost.


About Ben Solis

Ben Solis is the Managing Editor of Central Michigan Life. He has served as a city and university ...

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