Trump’s Twitter account charts a history of his presidency

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

Or: History of Trumpism, Part I.

Yes, the Donald has exhibited a significant ability to control the political narrative, both during his campaign and during his administration, with the not-so-delicate public bullhorn that is his Twitter account.  But, after over 6000 tweets in 2 years since he won his election, what can the corpus tell us about his presidency?

Lots, apparently.


The question

What do the changes in how the Donald has tweeted tell us about the ebb and flow of his presidency?


The short-short version

The single biggest trend that pops up is the replacement of bugaboo of the early part of Trump’s presidency (the Fake News Media), with that of 2018 (the Mueller Investigation & immigrants).

Some other quick takes:

  • He talked about the Economy a lot when it was doing well, and during the Tax Cut legislative push. Since then? Not so much.
  • Healthcare spiked during 2017 and then totally dropped off the radar.
  • Trump will never stop tweeting about Hillary Clinton.

The results

What has trump tweeted about since November 2016?

Mouseover for details.

We took 32 key subjects that had particular relevance to Trump’s political discourse from a policy, rhetorical, or partisan standpoint and that also appeared relatively frequently over the last 2+ years.  They break down into the following categories:

Category Subject RegEx (Perl)
Administration legal trouble & scandals Michael Cohen cohen
James Comey comey
Michael Flynn flynn
Leaking leak
Paul Manafort manafort
Mueller investigation (mueller|witch hunt|special counsel|angry dem|russia hoax|collu(sion|de)|conflict|hoax)
Allies & supporters Endorsements (full|complete) (&|and) (total|complete) end(or|ro)sement
Family (ivanka|don jr|donald jr|erictrump|melania|flotus)
MAGA (make(ing| |)america.?great.?(and safe |)again|maga(?!zin))
Rallies & supporters (rall(y|ies)|crowd|supporter)
Economy Economic indicators (?
Trade (trade|nafta|usmca)
Elections (non-specific) Elections (election|mid(\-|| )term|victory)
Foreign policy China chin(a|ese)
North Korea [^a-z](noko|n.k.|n. k.|north korea|n. korea|northkorea|nkorea|n k|nk|kim j(o|u)ng un|rocket man)
Russia (non-Mueller-related) russia(?!hoax| hoax| investigation|n collus)
Respect respect
Media Fake News Media (fake media|fake.?news|fake.?news media|dishonest media|enemy of the people)
Fox & friends fox.?and.?friends
NY Times nytimes
CNN cnn
Washington Post (washington post|wapost)
Opponents Hillary Clinton (crooked|crooked h|hillary|33(.|)000 emails|server|other side)
NFL flag protest (?<!influe)(nfl|kneel|anthem|kaepernick|our flag|the flag)
Obama obama(?!care)
Obstruction obstruct(ion|ing|ed|ionist|ionists|s|)
Terrorism Terrorism (terror|attack|shoot(er|ing)|bomb)
Trump Policy Agenda Courts (court|judge|circuit|scotus|kavanaugh|gorsuch|supreme court|(john|justice) roberts|judicial activis|chief justice)
Healthcare (o(|bama|[^a-z0-9]| |.)care|healthcare|health care)
Tax cuts tax( reform| cut| reform.*?cut| cut.*?reform|reform|cut|cutsandjobsact| law| code|day)
Immigration & the Wall ((criminal|illegal|chain)(| )(immigr|migration)|[^a-z]ice[^a-z]|i\.c\.e\.|icegov|immigration and customs enforcement|abolishice|abolish ice|southern border|caravan|ms\-13|ms13|ms 13|border patrol|border security|open border|catch(.|)and(.|)release|the wall|steel slats)
Law & order ((strong|weak|tough) on crime|(law & order|law and order|law\, order))

So, what does it mean?

The biggest changes over the half-life of Big Donnie 45’s administration have been:

  1. The rise in prominence of tweets about Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation as Mueller brought a steady stream of indictments, securing plea deals from former aides and associates closer and closer to Trump’s innermost circle of confidants. Trump has been, increasingly stridently, seeking to undercut the legitimacy of any eventual Mueller Report through connecting the investigation to the (pre-existing) right-wing conspiracy about a Deep State secretly pulling the strings of government.

    Trump tweets about Mueller Investigation

  2. The increasing use of immigrants as a blunt force fearmongering instrument. White Nationalism and an anti-immigrant platform was always a core part of Trumpism’s rhetoric, but it is clear that it steadily grew in prominence on his Twitter account over the course of the last two years and really ramped up with the formation of a migrant caravan last October and its subsequent incorporation into a core ideological feature of the Republican party’s midterm campaign.

    Trump tweets about Immigration and the Wall

Careful readers will note some notable absences from this list of terms, such as any discussion of climate change…. and that’s because those terms make no significant appearance in his tweet corpus during this time period. Which is significant in itself, of course.


It’s not you, he really is tweeting with (even) less self-control and more rage

At Principally Uncertain, we define rage tweets as as those sent by the Donald when he’s a bit (more) out of control, a bit less careful even than usual. These are tweets that:

  • Have excessive caps. The internet version of shouting at the top of his lungs.
  • Rant for 681 characters or more. In essence, 3 or more split tweets.

….with the exception of tweets that are clearly intended to be read as positive, boastful, or obviously not rage-induced, or retweets and quotes.

Mouseover for details.

After an early spike in rage tweets, Trump calmed his Twitter pressure down by the middle of 2017.  Over time, though, it seems as if his frustration or worry has grown, and his ranting and raging frequency has seen a marked rise over time.


Speaking of frequency, is Trump tweeting more often than he used to?

In two words: Hells yes.

Mouseover for details.

With some ups and downs, Trump has used his Twitter pulpit more as his presidency has gone on, increasing from about 5 tweets per day early in his term to 8 per day by the end of December 31, 2018. 

This probably reflects his increasing dissatisfaction with the indirect power of politics.  In addition to his seeming distaste for directly involving himself in the details of policy work with the GOP members of Congress, he also seems to have lost trust in his cabinet, growing tired of perceived (and probably real) attempts to tone down and filter his desires before they can be realized as policy.

The means to get around such filters is in the palm of his hands.  And he uses it more and more.

One potential follow up question, given that each tweet takes some non-zero amount of time to compose, send, and edit [editor’s note: HA. HA. HA. HAHAHAHA.], it would be interesting to correlate his daily tweet frequency with his published White House schedule. Is his Twitter obsession affecting how much actual work he does as President, and, if so, how much?


Has the rate at which Trump insults other countries changed?

Eh, not really; it’s kind of always been all over the place.

Mouseover for details.

While his targets have shifted over time, moving from North Korea to China to Canada to {{insert country here}}, there is no real pattern to the frequency of Trump’s diplomatic insults on Twitter.  It seems a bit random, not adhering to any strategy deeper than responding to what’s in front of him in the moment.


Conclusion

What does this portend?

Well, the recent signs pointing towards an increasing sense of isolation and desperation could be just a blip.  Trump could harness the Power of Bipartisanship and pass a sweeping Infrastructure Plan, defying predictions for his now-divided government.

But I doubt it. 

It’s far more likely that his presidency will continue to be characterized by just enough calmer periods for the apologists in the GOP to justify supporting him intermixed with periods where he lashes out at everything around him.

Or, he could just keep the government shut down for the next two years.  Whichever.

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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