Presidents of the United States have had many hobbies while in office and in their retirements; George Washington was into dancing when he was President and went back to farming; Franklin Roosevelt and Gerald Ford were into stamp collecting; John F Kennedy loved the seas; Lyndon Johnson had a penchant for big cars; Richard Nixon and his wife Patricia were avid bowlers; Ronald Reagan loved horseback riding; Bill Clinton apparently loved to solve crossword puzzles; Barack Obama played Golf and dribbled basketball; and someone like George W Bush who cut wood at his ranch in Crawford, Texas during his tenure at the Oval Office picked up a new hobby after leaving the White House — painting!
But a person like Donald Trump who loved golfing and all the good things of life also spent a good part of his four years at the Oval Office getting up at wee hours of the morning, taking to the social media handles, especially Twitter, to announce policy and personnel changes, making it appear that tweeting was some kind of a hobby, if not an obsession. Now four months after social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter had banned and removed him, Trump has found a new outlet. “From The Desk of Donald J Trump” is the new blog spot where his enthused fans, conservative followers including extremists and sycophants can follow the 45th President’s latest thoughts, whatever they may be on a range of subjects.
In line with his thinking, Trump has stayed on with his pet theme of peddling untruths and fantasy theories especially of the November 2020 elections being “stolen” from him; and in a latest scheme of things, using the blog to vent his anger on people he did not like or those who are against him. His latest target being Congresswoman from Wyoming, Liz Cheney, who had the guts to call upon fellow Republicans to distance themselves from President Trump and his lies. The Grand Old Party got rid of Liz Cheney from her powerful Number Three slot among House Republicans by a voice vote in a session that lasted about 30 minutes on May 12; the dissenters could not be counted as there was no inclination on the part of the majority to press for a division between the “ayes” and the “nays”.
In his characteristic fashion, Trump was very blunt in his blog about Cheney. “Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being. I watched her yesterday and realized how bad she is for the Republican Party. She has no personality or anything good having to do with politics or our country. She is a talking point for Democrats… She is a warmonger whose family stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster, draining our wealth and depleting our great military, the worst decision in our country’s history. I look forward to soon watching her as a paid contributor on CNN or MSDNC!” Trump said, earlier making the point that “almost everyone in the Republican Party, including 90 per cent of Wyoming looks forward to her ouster—and that includes me!”.
In the time he was in the White House and prior to his entry into the Oval Office, Trump has used social media quite effectively to peddle misinformation, disinformation, outright untruths, abusive name calling and dishing out conspiracy theories to the point of even baffling some of his ardent supporters. Prior to being permanently banned on Twitter, he had 88 million followers, many of whom would pick up his tweets and re-tweet them hundreds of thousands of times; he is said to have had some 32 million followers on Facebook and another 24 million on Instagram. But according to one count in the media, his blog has attracted a mere 212,000 “engagements” because of its limited parameters.
“… it is so technologically primitive that there is no way for his followers to even migrate. Who cares about a platform where you can’t even own the libs. There are plenty of other newsletters that people have been adding to their spam boxes for years,” Professor Jeremy Blackburn of Binghamton University in New York has been quoted. But President Trump has a different take: his statements in the blog are more elegant. “I like this better than Twitter. Actually they did us a favor,” Trump has said also making the point in an interview, “When I put out a press release, you see what happens. Everybody is waiting and I think I’m getting better and more coverage with that than I did with tweeting”.
The latest blog of President Trump is having the unofficial stamp of approval of the GOP where hardliners want to have it both ways: on the one hand berating those like Liz Cheney for politically keeping alive Trump and the 2020 elections; and on the other thriving on the lies and nonsense of President Trump of the “fraudulent” 2020 elections to push the political agenda on issues such as voting rights, affordable health care and immigration besides keeping the collection plate warm for the 2022 Congressional and 2024 Presidential elections. In taking Cheney to task and getting rid of her from a top leadership position, Republicans in the House have failed to see that the Wyoming Congresswoman had nothing against Trump personally, only that she disputed the claim that the last Presidential election was a fraud, a claim that courts and the Department of Justice would not touch with a bargepole.
It remains to be seen if President Trump’s blogging stint is a damp squib or the new talk of the town but if first impressions are anything to go by “From The Desk…” has neither set the Potomac nor the Atlantic on fire. But all this is unlikely to calm down the 45th President who can be expected to continue to rant and rave of how President Joseph Biden “stole” the election of 2020.
At the same time there is a feeling that Trump may eventually lose interest in his new found hobby in blogging as his new communications platform has not scaled to the heights that the former President may have expected. After all Trump is seen as someone who always wanted to be at the center of things and attention.
The right wing crowd in the Grand Old Party may celebrate the downsizing of Liz Cheney; but there is something that the fiery Congresswoman said by way of a parting shot that Republicans cannot forget all that easily: “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar”. As Chris Cillizza, CNN’s Editor-at-Large put it, “With the ouster of Cheney, every single House Republican who raised their voice to do the deed now owns this same lie. Because they did something worse than sit silently by while Trump blabbed about it to anyone who would listen. On Wednesday, they affirmed the lie and the liar. And they will now spend the next 18 months (or more) reaping what they have sown”.
(A former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations, the writer is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai)
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