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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

The Legacy of The Trump Presidency in so Many Tweets

“It can be asserted that the community, too, evolves a super-ego under whose influence cultural development proceeds... The super-ego of an epoch of civilisation has an origin similar to that of an individual. It is based on the impression left behind by the personalities of great leaders…” (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents)

What is the likely socio-cultural impression that will be left behind in the wake of a Trump presidency? Twenty-five years from now a discerning historian, philosopher or sociologist may provide us with some illumination. Until then we might make our way towards a provisional answer by looking at the defensive, vengeful, self-aggrandizing and petulant tweets of the first Twitter POTUS. 

What becomes apparent on first inspection is the seeming lack of a rational or ethical buffer between Trumps narcissistic, impulsive and demanding id and his storehouse of peevish tweets.

There is not much in the way of ‘reason and common sense’ that intervenes—what Freud described as ego. And there does not seem to be anything resembling a reflective moral compass or ‘conscience’ going on here either—what Freud understood as the super-ego. Trump’s emotive, impulsive tweets say to Americans that from now on they need not exercise self-restraint: they need not moderate speech, they may indulge in angry outbursts, realize their immediate desire for revenge, let loose their craving for violence. Humility, forbearance and prudence are displaced by boastfulness, impatience and recklessness.

In such a world self-aggrandizement, vulgarity, pettiness and indifference to suffering are the new normal—not just encouraged but rewarded. And let’s be honest here: the intemperance and lack of self-restraint Trump encourages is not circumscribed along ideological lines. We’ve all heard it: Trump is a Nazi; Ivanka, a feckless cunt, ‘Fuck Trump’! When the left engages in this sort of extreme invective, when reasoned and righteous anger morphs into hateful lashing out you can be sure Trump is smiling at what he has unleashed.

It often appears that the reactionary, uncontrolled urges and drives of Trump’s id are all-encompassing. However, as impulsive as his twitter outbursts might seem, they are often very strategic placed. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has deftly read through Trumps emotive tweets and concludes that he is something of a tactical genius, in ‘heroic control’ of the twitter universe. Through the medium of Twitter, Trump does not merely rant and rave, but calculates effects in order to achieve certain ends. 

To illustrate this Lakoff lays out a fascinating taxonomy of Trump tweets concluding that the latter “uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive.” Lakoff argues that these tweets mostly fall into one of four categories: 1. Pre-Emptive Framing or ‘as Marlon Brando said in On The Waterfront: “Do it to him before he does it to you”! ; 2. Diversion—a political ploy once described by the Roman poet Juvenal as ‘Bread and Circuses’ ; 3. Deflection—shifting the blame to others; 4. Trial Balloon—or ‘what the hell, let’s see what happens’. 

It may well be that Trump understands better than many around him the messaging power of Twitter—he is certainly familiar with the media/marketing/advertising complex. It might also be said that he intuitively knows what his base wants and expects from him, and deftly uses Twitter to this end. At any rate, Lakoff is quite right to warn us that there is more going on in Trump's tweets than petulant, juvenile screeching. His angry, incautious violent words have grave effects—they not only incite violence and normalize racism, sexism and xenophobia, but they will have long term deleterious effects on American values that were at one time the envy of the world.

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