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45’s 45: What Twitter can tell us about our president

In past presidential Kremlinology, we used to look at what a president was reading: carrying under his arm onto Air Force One, say, or keeping top-of-desk in the Oval Office ­— what, for example, President Obama would purchase on his visits to Martha’s Vineyard bookstores. We could learn something, say something, about the man in charge. 

As the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and other papers would report, President Obama read, among other things, biographies about other presidents (Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life”), Pulitzer Prize winners on climate change, interrogations of race relations — Ta Nehisi-Coates’s “Between the World and Me.” He taught books, as a law professor. And he bought books as president — Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, “Brave New World,” for example — especially for his two daughters.

Now, though, because of whom we’ve installed in the White House, we have to look for other hints and clues as to what our new president absorbs. 

This means — Sad! — we have to look at whom he follows on Twitter.  

For those of us who don’t use Twitter that often, it sure can be worth a peek — and no time is more important than today. If you care to peer inside the insular world of our current Chief Executive, you’ll find him at @realDonaldTrump. Our 45th president often uses Twitter as his primary means of communication — much as our 16th president (imagine: @AbrahamLincoln) used the live speech appearance, or our 32nd president (@FDR) worked through radio. 

Twitter is immediate (Trump can generate reactions instantly); personal (he can tweet directly to or about anyone, without prior review); and interactive (he can retweet other people’s statements, as he does, or block people who offer him criticism). 

And you can see the 45 people and things he follows.   

Who are they? 

The list is not that hard to parse. The taxonomy would go so:

First, by number, there are the television people — 15, 16, 17 of these. Many cluster around Fox: Bill O’Reilly, for example, who lists himself on Twitter (@BillOReilly) as, among other things, America’s bestselling historian (and “loving father”); Geraldo Rivera (“fierce enemy. . . kick ass reporter, proud JewRican,” @GeraldoRivera); Fox & Friends (@foxandfriends); Fox Nation (@foxnation). Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson), Sean Hannity (@seanhannity), Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter), Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle). Mark Burnett, who (@MarkBurnettTV) produced “The Apprentice,” which first brought Trump his fully national media following, and Burnett’s actress/producer wife Roma Downey (@RealRomaDowney). There’s also Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) and Greta van Susteren (@greta). 

That sort of thing.  

Second, property. Our president follows tweets from the properties that he owns or that carry his name. Trump Washington DC (@TrumpGolfDC) — the golf course in the capital. Trump Los Angeles (@TrumpGolfLA). Trump Hotel Chicago (@TrumpChicago). Trump Vegas Hotel (@TrumpLasVegas). Trump Charlotte (@TrumpCharlotte) and Trump National Doral (@TrumpDoral). TrumpGolf (@TrumpGolf) and the Trump Organization (@Trump). Obviously, people at these institutions do the tweeting, but somehow this says something. Eight of these hotels and golf courses and things, in all.  

Fox and property — that’s about half. Then there’s the family — several of whom work under him. There’s Ivanka (@IvankaTrump) and Melania (@MELANIATRUMP) and Donald J. Trump, Jr (@DonaldJTrumpJr). There’s Eric (@EricTrump) and Tiffany Ariana (@TiffanyATrump) and Lara Lea (@LaraLeaTrump) and Vanessa (@MrsVanessaTrump). 

Then, there’s the staff — and former staff — that’s not his family. Our vice president, Mike Pence (@mike_pence), Sarah Sanders (@PressSec), the official White House feed (@WhiteHouse), Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls). Reince Preibus (@Reince) is there, too, and Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski). Plus Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212), the president’s personal attorney, who lists his New York City telephone area code in his Twitter handle. And Dan Scavino, who is the president’s director of social media — with two accounts (@Scavino45 and @DanScavino) that the president follows. And there’s also Official Team Trump (@TeamTrump).

Last, there’s a cluster of sort of oddballs — media and entertainment types like Vince McMahon, the billionaire who runs World Wrestling Entertainment (@VinceMcMahon), golfer Gary Player (@garyplayer), two busy black women who tweet as @DiamondandSilk, and the Drudge Report (@DRUDGE_REPORT). McMahon and Drudge (and a few of these other guys) operate in that haze between entertainment and news and media and fact and fiction. (The others not listed above include a miscellany of waifs and strays: Jesse Watters [@jessebwatters]; Katrina Campins [@KatrinaCampins]; Katrina Pierson [@KatrinaPierson]; Eric Bolling [@ericbolling]).

There are, it is safe to say, no deep thinkers or intellectuals in this tweet deck — no Ron Chernows, no Pulitzer Prize-winners, no one like Ta-Nehisi Coates. At least two — Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera — have been repeatedly accused, like Trump, of sexual abuse. And of them all, Donald Jr. (“journalism is dead”) appears to be the most unhinged, but the competition is pretty severe. Bill O’Reilly might be the meanest, but we shouldn’t overlook anybody — especially Ann Coulter. Many of these people are nasty and brutish and intolerant — over the holidays, when I started writing this, O’Reilly was using Twitter to sell “We Say Merry Christmas” doormats — and worse. 

The 45 Twitter accounts 45 follows have, taken together, more than 69 million followers. 

Of course, some of the White House’s 16.7 million followers are the same people as Piers Morgan’s 6.4 million followers — or Ivanka Trump’s 5.4 million. 

And many  — hundreds of thousands, even millions, perhaps as high as 15 percent of the listed totals up on Twitter, according to The New York Times  —  might be counterfeit, machine-made bot-followers. Fake followers!

But coupled with the president’s own followers — he has 48.1 million as of this writing — you’ll find that more than 110 million followers receive messages from 45 and 45’s 45, all together.  

That’s a lot of audience.  

Hashtag:  #doom

 

Peter B. Kaufman (@pbkauf) works as a Research Affiliate in the Office of Digital Learning at MIT and produces films and video for Intelligent Television in Lakeville.