Trump Watch retrospective: What did we learn in 2017?

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

We’ve spent much of the last year looking at @realDonaldTrump under a microscope, at times giving him way too much of the attention he so desperately craves.  Great.  Fine.  Three gold stars for attention to detail.  Have we actually learned anything from the Trump Watch?

It’s time for a retrospective.  And, since the New Year is a convenient and popular arbitrary point in the Earth’s orbit to schedule these things, let’s do it now.  Herding isn’t always a bad thing. We’ve sliced and diced The Donald’s Twittering through computational linguistics, maps, sentiment analysis, and a healthy appreciation of the surreality of the fact of President Donald J. Trump. 

Coping with tragedy through treating it like farce is healthy and good, but it can’t be the only thing we do if we want to, you know, help and stuff.  If it did anything, 2017 asked this question: Quis custodiet ipsos President?

Our answer: We do. And so do an encouraging number of our fellow Americans, in and outside of the Deep State.

The Resistance may or may not turn out to be a sustainable political movement, but at least it’s annoyed the hell out of Trump and contributed (significantly) to the slowing of his agenda.  Keep it up, peoples.  One (shitty) upward redistribution of wealth to show for 11 months in office is a pace for the Trump Agenda that (if we’re being honest) is lower than our wildest expectations could have been on November 9th, 2016.


The Question

After a year of tracking @realDonaldTrump, what have we actually learned?


The short-short version

He is what we thought he was: a blustering buffoon of a tweeter.  But about some subjects more than others, and not always in the ways you’d expect.



What we know now that we didn’t know a year ago


Trump is most unusual in his tweets about…foreign policy.

We took every n-gram used 3 times or more by Trump (see the methodology for normalized TF-IDF here), and grouped by category all of the ones that weren’t either grammatical in nature (like am), or ambiguous (great is used in almost any context).  That ruled out 417 of the 1020 qualifying n-grams (to date), and sorting by cumulative frequency (x-axis) and uniqueness (y-axis), a few stand out relative to other US politicians’ Twitter accounts.

Ok, this surprised us a bit. Yes, his constant public insulting of a nuclear weapon-brandishing dictatorship is pretty damn unprecedented (pop quiz: why is the Kim family still in power but Hussein isn’t?  Hint: one of them actually had WMDs).

…but we had thought that his pretty vanilla tweeting about, say, Japan, his European Vacation, and every single foreign leader that honors him with a visit to the White House would temper the overall average a bit.  You know, back to regular levels of crazy, not the top spot.

Economic Nationalism is the next most significant category, followed by the media (sans the Yes-Media group of Fox and Friends, Brietbart, etc), and his opponents.  None of those three should really surprise anyone, and most of us would have bet the mainstream media bashing to have taken the top spot.

After that group of subjects, there’s a huge gap, then a lot of things that everyone tends to talk about (the administration, terrorism), or that are unusual but that he doesn’t really talk about in enough volume to register on this scale (the NFL flag protests, his rallies).


He’s learned not to rage-tweet

We defined “rage” as either 50% caps or more than 3 consecutive split tweets under the old 140-character limit, excepting tweets clearly intended to be read as positive, boastful, or otherwise not rage-induced (such as his Happy President’s Day shout).

In his first 3 months in office, he had 13 rage tweets.  Since then…. Pretty much crickets outside of one 3-spot in a single week in late October.

Count Date Text Cause (if known)
1 2016-11-27 Hillary’s debate answer on delay: “That is horrifying. That is not the way our democracy works. Been around for 240 years. We’ve had free — and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them, and that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a – during a general election. I, for one, am appalled that somebody that is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind — of position.” Then, separately she stated, “He said something truly horrifying … he refused to say that he would respect the results of — this election. That is a direct threat to our democracy.” She then said, “We have to accept the results and look to the future, Donald — Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.” So much time and money will be spent – same result! Sad Recounts in WI, MI, & PA
2 2016-12-04 The U.S. is going to substantially reduce taxes and regulations on businesses, but any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. ……without retribution or consequence, is WRONG! There will be a tax on our soon to be strong border of 35% for these companies ……wanting to sell their product, cars, A.C. units etc., back across the border. This tax will make leaving financially difficult, but…..these companies are able to move between all 50 states, with no tax or tariff being charged. Please be forewarned prior to making a very …expensive mistake! THE UNITED STATES IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS ?
3 2017-01-09 Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….groveling when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media! Streep crticism at the Golden Globes
4 2017-01-11 FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT! Russian blackmail intelligence report
5 2017-01-11 Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair! Russian blackmail intelligence report
6 2017-01-11 Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING! Russian blackmail intelligence report
7 2017-01-11 INTELLIGENCE INSIDERS NOW CLAIM THE TRUMP DOSSIER IS “A COMPLETE FRAUD!” @OANN Russian blackmail intelligence report
8 2017-02-04 MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN U.S. District Judge James L. Robart temporarily blocked the 7-country travel ban enacted by Trump a week before on 2/3.
9 2017-02-09 SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE! 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the stay on travel ban executive order in State of Washington v. Trump.
10 2017-02-12 72% of refugees admitted into U.S. (2/3 -2/11) during COURT BREAKDOWN are from 7 countries: SYRIA, IRAQ, SOMALIA, IRAN, SUDAN, LIBYA & YEMEN Loss in State of Washington v. Trump.
11 2017-03-03 Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional. This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election, and now they have lost their grip on reality. The real story is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total “witch hunt!” Jeff Sessions contacts with Russia.
12 2017-04-17 RT @DRUDGE_REPORT: TRUMP APPROVAL HITS 50% https://t.co/TruX3WzR3U Trump’s approval rating averages in the high 30% and low 40% range as the 100-day mark approaches.
13 2017-04-17 TRUMP APPROVAL HITS 50% https://t.co/vjZkGTyQb9 Same as above.
14 2017-07-26 IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT – WE WORSHIP GOD! 🎥 https://t.co/jIejSgVnnA ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
15 2017-10-22 It is finally sinking through. 46% OF PEOPLE BELIEVE MAJOR NATIONAL NEWS ORGS FABRICATE STORIES ABOUT ME. FAKE NEWS, even worse! Lost cred. Trump’s continued frustration with the refusal of the media to highlight positive stories about him (such as the stock market) and their role in disseminating news about scandals like the controversy over his condolence calls to soldiers killed in action.
16 2017-10-25 MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! https://t.co/CbEwJSQ1A3 GOP infighting ramps up as Corker and Flake savage Trump after announcing they will not be standing for elections, dominating the news cycle instead of Trump’s desired push for Tax Reform.
17 2017-10-29 Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),….the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia,….”collusion,” which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s….are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING! Trump’s greatest hope, being able to deflect the attention of the Russia probe by trumpeting the news that the Clinton campaign helped pay British secret agent Christopher Steele for the “pee tape.”
18 2017-11-22 It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence – IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think….LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool! https://t.co/R7yb95fkUw Trump was insulted that LaVar Ball didn’t thank him for negotiating his son’s (UCLA bball player LiAngelo Ball) release after being caught shoplifting during a preseason tour in China.
19 2018-01-02 It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue….peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them? https://t.co/on5fwpqknG Possibly Trump picking a fight with Pakistan, or is it getting frustrated that Middle East peace is harder than he thought? Kind of tough to tell.
20 2018-01-06 Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that! https://t.co/X3UO2xDvEv Michael Wolff’s 5 January release of Fire and Fury, a tell-all book questioning Trump’s mental fitness, among other things.

Is he….more under control?  It seems more likely that he’s simply tweaked how he tweets based on how the first year has gone, and noticed that even his base seems to have wanted him to tone things down a bit (relative to baseline Trump, of course).  Twitter is, in some sense, his own private PR channel, free of checks and balances.

UPDATE 7 Jan 2018 – Ehhhhhh….maybe not. Or maybe he was more under control, but something about fighting the War on Christmas got his blood up for the new year. That, and Michael Wolff.


On Monday, The Donald rested

There was a fair amount of speculation early in the year that Friday night to Saturday night was Crazy Time at Mar-a-Lago, fueled in part by the myth of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s supposed moderating influence on the Prez.

Answer: Friday is a pretty busy day, but it’s not Trump’s busiest Twitter day (that’s Wednesday).  Saturday, while it’s had some famously crazy moments (like the “Obama wiretapped me!” episode), is actually a pretty slow day, lagging behind every weekday except Monday with 14.2% of his tweets.

There’s not a lot of difference in his day of week breakdown, but one does see a drop on Sunday and Monday, with every other day totaling between 14.9-16.4% of his tweet volume.


Trump’s tweet frequencies are more random than we thought

Back in April, we found evidence that suggested Trump tended to follow a pattern of going (relatively) quiet when damaging news broke, then following it up with a blast as his desire to defend himself overcame his self-control (or his lawyers’ and aides’ advice, whichever).

That might still be the case, but there are a lot of exceptions and confounds to the pattern.  His biggest twitter drought was when he took his grand European Tour in May, and two other big drops probably had more to do with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays than any political calculations. 

What his rate pattern looks a lot more like is a steady climb as his frustration with the stalling of his agenda and the non-disappearance of the Mueller probe, with a lot of noise on both sides around the trendline.  One assumes that there is some ceiling; even for Trump, cracking 20 tweets a day on average seems unreachable.  10? Unlikely, but it’ll probably depend on how things like the 2018 midterm campaigns go and how much of a bunker mentality he has to adopt.  Will the bulk of the GOP seem like an ally or an enemy by this time next year?


What we totally already knew


Trump is a foreign policy bully

We mean this in the classic schoolyard sense, in that he insults weaker states with impunity (Mexico!) but pretty much only says something negative about Vlad the Terrible when forced to by the domestic narrative (such as claiming it was actually Hillary and the Democrats who colluded with Russia).

We looked at both our own coding of tweets (positive mention, negative mention, compliment, insult) and the linguistic sentiment analysis tool Lingmotif (which looks at sentiment and intensity)[[footnote– built by Antonio Moreno Ortiz and the Technolengua group the University of Málaga, who graciously granted us permission to use it for this project]] to represent a breadth of approaches to analyzing President Trump’s statements about other countries, and both pretty much tell the same story.

Conclusion 1 – He sure does spend a lot of words talking about Russia for only a little movement on the sentiment scale.

Conclusion 2 – Man, does he spend a lot of time sucking up to Xi Jingping and China while also, sporadically, blatantly insulting the Chinese. It appears that there’s a coherent strategy (the obsequiousness) punctuated by Trump reverting to type whenever he gets frustrated with it not having the desired effects (such as North Korea disarming and Trump getting credit).  If there’s a single foreign power who he’s most concerned about, that’s it.  And that’s not much of a surprise to anyone.


Trump likes insulting people, even people with nukes

Hands up if you thought he’d be this close to hitting for the cycle (insulting every single nuclear power and suspected or actively trying power) within a year.  No?  Well, if the frequency surprised us, the fact of his being uninterested in diplomatic diplomacy when it comes to atom-splitting should not really come as much of a shock from the person who has openly advocated that the US update its own arsenal.

Doomsday summary
Insults Country
47 North Korea (PRK)
41 Iran (IRN)
12 China (CHN)
11 Russia (RUS)
1 France (FRA)
1 Pakistan (PAK)
1 United Kingdom (GBR)

Full list of insults on our Trump Watch page.

Only missing India and Israel (the worst-kept secret in the world) to complete the set of 8 other nuclear powers (+Iran, who has actively tried in the recent past)!


What’s next?

Keep the pressure on.  Use information like this to figure out the subjects, tactics, and groups that most undermine the Trump regime.  Provoke him into doing something stupid (like firing Mueller).

Psst!  Hey, Donnie!

We’re watching.

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.

2 Comments on "Trump Watch retrospective: What did we learn in 2017?"

    • @bookmax, well, with Kim there’s some (cold, harsh) logic to it: if he acts like someone who will shoot off a nuke, then chances of an invasion (and an external power toppling his regime) drop to close to 0%.

      With Trump, well, “logic” isn’t exactly how I’d describe most of his first 11+ months in office.

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