A digital narrative researcher started collecting all of Trump's tweets from the day he announced his candidacy until 8 January 2021, the day Twitter permanently suspended his account. All 20,301 of them. Here's what she discovered...
Since the world has been enjoying the delicious silence of a life without Trump for several months now, you may be ready for an analysis of how he achieved what he did through the power of Twitter (his primary megaphone) and what tricks (consciously or otherwise) he employed to get his message across. Ok, it's not good news per se, but we can at least continue to enjoy his Twitter silence and take a reflective moment to look back and understand his social media methodology. Here's a summary of the analysis published in The Conversation.
The tally was in and Donald Trump tweeted: “either a new election should take place or … results nullified.” It sounds familiar, but it wasn’t November 2020. It was February 2016.
Trump was just months into his presidential campaign, and was already telling a story he would tell countless times over the following five years. Back then, Trump was seeking to nullify Ted Cruz’s victory. And he was accusing Iowa of bungling the primary vote counting.
Some of Trump's power to rally a loyal base was based on his repetitive rhetorical style, but on Twitter he was especially potent as narrator-in-chief of his own political life. He was a story teller and was more effusively positive and more bitingly negative than all the politicians, journalists, news organizations and activists that the analyst at The Conversation compared him to.
Storytelling in general is common among effective politicians, but Trump’s bombardment of tweets appears to have built a high level of loyalty, diverted attention away from negative topics and generally set the agenda for what the American public was discussing. Others have looked at this aspect of Trump’s appeal, examining specific stories throughout his presidency, his style of storytelling and even the rhetorical components of his populist narrative. But The Conversation discovered a particular story structure that he used the whole time.
There were five main themes, which appeared regularly - often all in one day:
The true version of the United States is beset with invaders;
Real Americans can see this;
I (Trump) am uniquely qualified to stop this invasion;
The establishment and its agents are hindering me;
The U.S. is in mortal danger because of this.
Taken together over time, this formed an overall story structure that can be summarized thus: “The establishment is stopping me from protecting you against invaders.”
“The establishment” could be anyone - Democrats, the NFL, a media outlet, a corporation and even VP Mike Pence. “The invaders” were China, the coronavirus that first emerged there, people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border or BLM protesters.
But the structure never changed: There was a danger to the nation, Trump was uniquely able to protect America and he was righteously supported by “real” Americans.
But his recasting of reality through his own lens may have also played a role in Trump’s downfall. All the attacks, all the twisting of information, all the fear, may have worn out just enough people in key states to ensure his defeat.
When that defeat struck, Trump’s storytelling framework did not change: It escalated and multiplied, consuming everything and everyone who did not blatantly support what many have called the Big Lie - that the election was rigged against him.
However, the final tweet from his account before it was closed does not really fit any of his common themes. It is also one of the few times it seems like the tweet is telling a more traditional story. “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th” is a pretty understated ending to an epic tale.
Now that Facebook's supervisory board has agreed to uphold his ban from their platform, at least for now, we can all escape from putting up with more of his Twitter-style tactics on Facebook.