Let’s race by all this election-silliness. It is now January 20, 2017. The swearing-in ceremony is long over, the inaugural balls have finally wound down. President Donald Trump is propped up on the fluffy pillows of Lincoln’s famous bed. He pulls up his Twitter account….
At this point, reporters may have created a new slug line that can be retrieved with a single stroke. Tap the key board and up pops the line:
“Donald Trump tweeted today that…….”
Which raises a question. Would President Trump tweet? President Obama tweets — sort of. Here’s his Twitter account: https://twitter.com/potus?lang=en Take a good look at those presidential tweets. Salutes to Congressman John Lewis and LBJ, a photo of Earth, some back and forth with GOP members of Congress.
Come on. Truth? Does anybody really believe Mr. Obama is sitting there in the Oval tweeting this stuff out? On occasion, maybe. But as a regular fact of his presidential life? One can be reasonably confident the President spends more time on the golf course than he does on his Twitter account. This has “staff tweeting” written all over it.
But The Donald? Doubtless he too gets some tweeting assistance, but without doubt the famous middle-of-the-night tweets that cause such a stir in the media and the world political are straight from the man himself. And unlike with other celebrities in the world, knowing that Trump doesn’t drink means there is no chance these tweets are the product of one sip too many.
So, the question recurs. Would President Trump tweet?
Lost in all the hysteria of what Trump is tweeting is the fact that he is personally making massive use of the newest high-tech American wizardry. All to his considerable advantage. Americans — both political journalists and regular folk — keep checking Trump’s twitter feed with a fascinated anticipatory delight. “Mildred — let’s check and see what The Donald is saying now!”
The fact is that if there is a President Trump tweeting away come a year from January he will revolutionize the institution of the presidency — just as several of his predecessors have done in their own day with the latest technology of the moment.
The Smithsonian Institution records that when Abraham Lincoln took office in March of 1861, with the nation teetering on the brink of civil war:
… there was not even a telegraph line to the War Department, much less the White House. Storm clouds were brewing, but when the US Army wanted to send a telegram they did like everyone else: sending a clerk with a hand written message to stand in line at Washington’s central telegraph office. That unwieldy situation changed rapidly, however, as wires were strung to the War Department and other key installations. The White House, however, remained without any outside connection.
The national leaders were like their constituents in their understanding of electronic communications. While an interesting and growing technology, the telegraph’s potential was still widely under-appreciated and it certainly had never been tested in a time of crisis. This reality makes Lincoln’s subsequent embrace of the new technology even more remarkable. Without the guidance of precedent, and in the middle of a battle for the nation’s survival, Abraham Lincoln used the new electronic communications to transform the nature of the presidency. The telegraph became a tool of his leadership and, thus, helped to win the Civil War.
Decades later radio was invented, and presidents treated it carefully. Until the election of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR embraced the fairly new technology with gusto. American Radio Works, a site devoted to the history of radio, reminds that FDR:
…pioneered the modern, electronic political campaign. And with a nation gripped first by the Great Depression and then World War II, Roosevelt and his administration made extensive use of radio as a tool to educate and persuade the American people.
… Earlier presidents had appeared on radio, but FDR is widely regarded as the first chief executive to master the medium as a source of political advantage. He set the standard for all to follow.
This is an understatement. FDR’s presidency was essentially a twelve-year long radio show, with the lead actor and his distinctive patrician voice mesmerizing the nation with everything from “fireside chats” to the sounds of the White House Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, to salutes to the Boy Scouts and more.
With the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, America had the first seriously telegenic president of the dawning age of television. While TV had been around for the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, neither man was especially good at it nor did they use it extensively. All this changed with JFK. By 1961 the three networks all had evening newscasts, first of 15-minutes in length, soon enough for a half hour. JFK, who had been elected in part based on his TV debates with Richard Nixon, made full use of the new medium. His press conferences were televised live, breaking with Eisenhower’s tradition of film-only. The very first one drew an audience of 65 million. Over the almost three years of his time in the White House, Kennedy remade the institution of the presidential press conference.
As time has evolved, one president resigned because a secretly installed tape recording system captured his illegalities. Now we have a presidential candidate and ex-Secretary of State in the middle of a scandal over e-mails and servers.
With all this history it doesn’t take much imagination to believe that a President Trump could yet again revolutionize the presidency with the latest high-tech communication tool — Twitter.
So there he is, tossing and turning in Lincoln’s Bed, President Trump’s first night on the job. Suddenly, the thought occurs. The thumb starts tapping: “@VladPutin@RealPOTUSTrump says u r making mistake @Ukraine. Loser.”
And somewhere, Abraham Lincoln, the telegraph president, smiles.