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Donald Trump

2017: the year that was, according to Trump’s tweets … tremendous, the best ever, everyone says so

Whether outlining foreign policy or pursuing personal feuds, the president’s fondness for Twitter regularly upended the news cycle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 December, 2017, 7:40am

Donald Trump’s has already been a presidency like no other, underscored by his unique penchant for taking to Twitter in the wee hours to torpedo the news cycle with a series of 140-character missives. Twitter’s limit has now been expanded to 280 characters so who knows what 2018 will have in store?

In the first year of his presidency, Trump has used Twitter to conduct foreign policy, pursue personal vendettas, offer a stream-of-consciousness commentary on his country’s relationship with China, respond to allegations of collusion and generally whip an audience of millions into a state of high anxiety or excitement, depending on their political leanings.

Trump’s Twitter habit has itself been a source of controversy. His off-the-cuff style has created persistent headaches for his staff but his direct, no-filter approach has also undoubtedly kept a vast swathe of his base engaged and in his corner.

Here’s how 2018 unfolded through the lens of the presidential Twitter account:

Confronting North Korea and ‘Little Rocket Man’

The growing nuclear threat posed by North Korea looms as the great foreign policy challenge of the Trump administration. And while there have been sober attempts at diplomacy, Trump appears to have little patience for the nuances. North Korea is renowned for its bellicose propaganda but Trump has been all too willing to follow suit. At various stages, Trump has promised to “totally destroy” North Korea with “fire and fury”.

He has also singled out North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for particular criticism, adding “Little Rocket Man” to his long list of derogatory nicknames bestowed on political foes.

North Korea has been happy to respond in kind, its state news agency directing an array of blistering insults in Trump’s direction. In one memorable, extended diatribe, Kim made a rare direct statement in which he vowed to “tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

The North Korean crisis is unlikely to subside any time soon and an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula appears inevitable. Trump has by turns urged China to do more to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions only to later dismiss Beijing’s leverage.

Friend or foe? Mixed messages on China

Trump has taken a variety of shifting positions on China and his Twitter activity reflects that. As a candidate, Trump promised a harder line against China and a more aggressive stance on trade deals. Once elected, he appointed a vocal China critic as a senior trade adviser. He also risked a diplomatic row with Beijing after speaking by phone with Taiwan’s president, inadvertently undermining the “one China” policy.

However, during his first year in office, Trump’s tone toward China became increasingly conciliatory, if not exactly friendly. And, indeed, during his landmark visit to China, Trump failed to secure any major concessions from Beijing.

On one hand, Trump desperately needs Beijing’s cooperation to confront North Korea. On the other, Trump may simply not have a sufficiently sophisticated grasp of geopolitics to understand China’s long-term ambitions.

Certainly, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was an early gift to China. The free trade deal had been drawn up by Barack Obama’s administration with a view to containing China’s influence. By scuttling the deal, Trump left the door wide open for Beijing.

Comey, Mueller and the Russia ‘witch hunt’

Even before Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, his ties with Russia had cast a shadow over his campaign.

In the year since, there has been a slow drip of information, incrementally shedding light on links between the Trump campaign and Kremlin operatives, adding weight to the suspicion the US president has been compromised by the Russians.

Throughout, Trump has dismissed the allegations – and the ensuing investigation – as a witch hunt. However, he made a rod for his own back when he fired FBI director James Comey. Trump offered shifting explanations for sacking Comey, although Comey later claimed Trump had asked him to suspend the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn, the national security adviser forced to resign in disgrace after only a few weeks.

And it was Trump’s decision to sack Comey that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead a federal investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Mueller, a former FBI boss himself, brought charges against several Trump aides and then persuaded Flynn to cooperate as part of a deal that involved pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.

Throughout, Trump has loudly insisted it is all a hoax. Although he may have inadvertently incriminated himself via Twitter, indicating he knew Michael Flynn lied to the FBI when he fired him.

Don’t trust the ‘fake news’ … apart from Fox

Along with Kim Jong-un and “Crooked Hillary”, the media has emerged as Trump’s favoured target for Twitter abuse. Indeed, the label “fake news” has entered the popular lexicon as a result and been embraced by authoritarian leaders in Asia to dismiss unwelcome coverage.

Trump’s messaging has often sought to cast the media – Fox News aside – as “the opposition”. This adversarial tone was reinforced by Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, who became a figure of fun for late-night comics. Spicer resigned in July.

Indeed, one of Trump’s most enthusiastically shared posts on Twitter depicted the real estate mogul beating up on CNN. Some organisations have been banned from off-camera briefings and Trump has even labelled some outlets “the enemy” of the American people.

Despite his hostility to the media, Trump has never been publicity-shy. In 2016, Time magazine named Trump its “Person of the Year” and, indeed, Trump once decorated his golf clubs with fake Time covers. It came as something of a surprise then when Trump claimed he “took a pass” on Time’s offer to return for its 2017 cover.

How Obama ‘wire tapped’ Trump Tower

In the early stages of the transition from Obama to Trump, there appeared to be a willingness to work together – or, at least, a temporary ceasefire – despite Trump’s outrageous criticisms of Obama while campaigning. Obama, for his part, congratulated Trump for his “remarkable run” but urged his successor to “sustain the international order … upon which our wealth and safety depend”.

However, the niceties were blown out of the water in March when Trump launched an astonishing rant on Twitter, accusing Obama of “wire tapping” Trump Tower and referring to his predecessor as a “sick guy”.

Trump subsequently asked Congress to investigate his claims, which were emphatically denied by Obama.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans were unable to produce any evidence to support Trump’s explosive claims.

From glass house, Trump throws big stones

This year has brought a deluge of sexual assault allegations against prominent, powerful men in entertainment, media and politics: Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, Al Franken, Dustin Hoffman, Russell Simmons, Geoffrey Rush, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose – even former president George H.W. Bush.

In the second half of 2017, it seemed the accusations against Weinstein opened the floodgates. But that would be to omit Trump from the long list of powerful men alleged to have committed sexual misconduct. Indeed, Trump’s presidential campaign threatened to be derailed by leaked audio from Access Hollywood , in which Trump talked about “grabbing women by the p****” and claimed “when you’re a star they let you do it”.

This apparently did not discourage Trump from weighing in on the allegations against others.

Nor was Trump dissuaded from endorsing Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, despite Moore being accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls while he was in his 30s.

Republicans at one stage wanted Moore to stand aside because of the allegations but eventually reversed course in sync with Trump.

Trump attacks NFL over protesting players

It began last year with Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who declined to stand for the pre-game national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans. More players followed Kaepernick’s lead and, indeed, Trump’s election contributed to an increasingly charged, increasingly politicised atmosphere that even athletes felt compelled to acknowledge.

Trump added fresh animus to the issue when he urged NFL team owners to “fire” players who protested. Even Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who had previously supported Trump, offered muted criticism.

Trump, however, has never been one to shy await from a Twitter feud – or a public feud of any kind, for that matter – and quickly seized on the issue of African American NFL players protesting racially charged injustice as one that would entrench support among his overwhelmingly white base.

The players refused to bow to pressure from the president and were supported in part by team owners as pre-game protests became the norm in the NFL.

What is covfefe? Is it OK for Scrabble?

The Trump era has already ushered a handful of new words into the vernacular. After all, where would we be without “alternative facts”?

But few utterances captivated Twitter as completely as the mysterious “covfefe”, which appeared in one of Trump’s late-night tweets, in which he had begun to criticise the media before simply trailing off. The tweet remained online for several hours before being removed.

The tweet generated well over 100,000 likes and retweets and more than 30,000 replies. The response took on a life of its own, turning covfefe into one of the year’s runaway memes.

Others were quick to seize on Trump’s incomprehensible tweet as a sign the president has slipped into an unhinged, sleep-deprived state. Covfefe was the read flag exposing a dangerously unstable president, they said.

More importantly, is covfefe now legal in Scrabble?

In defence of Confederate monuments

The issue of Confederate monuments in parts of the American south was a political flashpoint before Trump weighed in. Those who want them to remain argue they commemorate the history of the civil war, while those calling for them to be torn down insist they confer a respectability on the defence of slavery and its enduring legacy of division and inequality.

This front in the US culture wars took an even darker turn in August when white nationalists turned up in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. The counterprotests that followed turned deadly when a young man drove his car into the crowd, killing three people. The accused killer was James Fields, a white nationalist who idolised Adolf Hitler.

Trump, for his part, offered mixed messages. After his initially muted response to the violence in Charlottesville, Trump was pressured to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. However, Trump walked back his criticism in the following days, and appeared to suggest an equivalence between the white supremacists and those gathered in opposition by repeatedly blaming “both sides”.

Even allowing for Trump’s chequered past on race relations, the appearance of a US president equivocating over the Ku Klux Klan was sobering. Trump remained unapologetic and his tweets on the issue of Confederate monuments made his position on an open sore of US history abundantly clear.

And everyone else Trump attacked on Twitter

Despite being leader of the free world, Trump still found the time to pursue several feuds on Twitter, generally returning fire at those who dared criticise him.

As British Prime Minister Theresa May found out after she criticised him for retweeting videos posted by a far-right group, not even the “special relationship” afforded her protection from Trump’s Twitter rage.

When three US college basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China, Trump intervened to arrange their release – or so he claims. However, when he felt they had not been sufficiently grateful, he let LaVar Ball, one of the players’ father, know all about it.

Hurricane Maria hammered Puerto Rice in September. There was a mass evacuation and the US territory was without power long after. Nonetheless, Trump gave himself a perfect score for his administration’s response to the disaster and had some choice words for the mayor of Puerto Rico when she urged Washington to do more.

Trump even used Twitter to castigate members of his own administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. His involvement in the Russia scandal sent up red flags, stirring speculation Sessions might not keep his job. But it turned out that what really annoyed Trump was that Sessions hadn’t found a way to imprison Hillary Clinton.

Aside from CNN, Trump’s favourite targets in the “fake news media” have been MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, although they initially helped propel his candidacy with regular guest spots. Clearly, though, the relationship had soured by the time Trump unleashed a brutal volley of insults on Twitter, recalling meeting Brzezinski when she was, he claimed, “bleeding badly from a facelift”.

Even as president of the United States, Trump apparently still has time to keep an eye on his old TV programme, The Apprentice , and critique the man who replaced him, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Trump has few friends in Hollywood so it was little surprise to see him lampooned and criticised at various award shows. When Meryl Streep took aim at the president, he didn’t hesitate to share his thoughts on her performance.

But for all those feuds, there’s one that seems to animate Trump more than others. Despite being elected more than a year ago, Trump doesn’t seem quite ready to let the campaign end. And it’s therefore no surprise that the feud he keeps going back to is with “Crooked Hillary”.