Pity the failed influencer, Donald Trump.
After 29 days and only around 50 posts, Trump’s odd experiment in what his team hyped as a “new communications platform” (or at least an intern’s lunchtime side hustle) has come to an end. It reportedly met its demise because Trump had reached his limit for public ridicule — which, you know, whoa, if true. (That, after all, would be an event of far more newsworthiness than the demise of just another corporate outreach stunt, which was outdated before anyone even hit “Publish.”)
A more objective reason for pulling the plug on Trump’s attempt to compensate for having been banned by every major social media outlet is that it was a whimpering failure, each pathetic bleat drowned out by the sound of millions of people paying attention to just about anything else. The Washington Post put more employee hours into finding out what was more popular than “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” (Petfinder and the cooking site Delish) than anyone at Mar-a-Lago ever put into it.
Like much of Trump’s oeuvre, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” was a briefly-thought-out kludge, extruded from Trump’s signature combination of whim, ignorance and sloth.
Trump broke the cardinal rule of fame: He made it clear how much he wanted it.
Now, I’m just a simple country former Wonkette — a political blog, probably before your time — but I have some practice with both internet fame and internet obscurity, and I feel qualified to offer an expert opinion on what went wrong. (I have also read a bunch of articles about “how to be an influencer.”)
To judge by my experience and several sites that promised to teach me more about influencing if I signed up for their webinar, Trump did a lot right in his post-presidency social media campaign! He identified a niche: terrified racists. He was consistent in his signature style: terrified racism. And he stayed topical, finding ways to bend seemingly irrelevant news items (the winner of the Kentucky Derby failing a drug test) into fodder for more terrified racism — Medina Spirit’s positive test was, after all, just another example of how “the whole world is laughing at us as we go to hell on our Borders, our fake Presidential Election, and everywhere else!”
So, what went wrong? My would-be webinar instructors might point out his failure to “collaborate with other influencers” or “up his hashtag game” or even to “host interactive events.”
But I have another theory. It’s the thirst. Trump broke the cardinal rule of fame: He made it clear how much he wanted it.
Trump’s consuming desire for adoration has always been both a feature and a bug in his glitchy wetware. It was a strength because his need for blanket validation freed him from the norms and conventions that bind most of us within the limits of self-respect. It was his willingness to say whatever would win him support — and to care not one bit from whom that support came — that placed him in the position to benefit from 2016’s tragically peculiar election.
You cannot demand that people listen to what you have to say and have them do so unless the nuclear football is not far behind you when you say it.
The drawbacks of pursuing mass devotion are more plain. Inside those ill-fitting suits is a vast vacuum where the ego should be, a black hole that no amount of praise or exaltation can fill. This makes him do stupid things and believe even stupider things; I’m guessing “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” started as a sycophant rattling a set of buzzwords to placate him, which grew into the kind of overpromised but barely studied premise that brought us, well, the entirety of Trump’s presidency.
You want to know what the plan was — and is, as apparently there’s more in the works — for the new Trump “social media platform”? Just look to Infrastructure Week: There isn’t one.
What is clear now is that no one at Mar-a-Lago bothered to tell Trump that social media reach isn’t a permanent benefit of power; it’s a measure of attention. You cannot demand that people listen to what you have to say and have them do so unless the nuclear football is not far behind you when you say it. Followers are not (usually) “followers” in the cultish sense, and they will tune you out if you don’t have the amplification that comes with a pre-existing network and a pre-existing power structure.
Once the networks cut off Trump’s access to the virtual airwaves, the essential weaknesses of Trump’s act became obvious: He got popular because he played an outrageous version of a familiar tune.
Trump’s personality, his “platform,” ideas, ideology or even his garish taste — none of this is what his base of white Americans was ever responding to. If there was anything about Trump qua Trump to which they were responding, it was the boundlessness of his desperation for attention and the license that came with it. Trump’s grimy unctuousness read to them as permission to let their own ugly desires show. Some of us saw that as flop sweat; others just saw the shine.
He was no innovator or canny operator; he was an extremely lucky sociopath who discovered that white people really liked it when he was as racist as they wanted to be.
And now they are.
That’s why Trump’s eager volleys today radiate the same pathetic loneliness I’ve heard in the voices of former boyfriends reminding me of how they introduced me to chess or Sam Peckinpah movies or Thai food. It’s not that they didn’t; it’s that I’ve played chess, watched Peckinpah and eaten Thai food so much without them that I like those things all by myself now.
What’s funny about Trump is that he dove into the social media platform game purely out of insecurity, and he doesn’t seem to realize that he has what most influencers are seeking: actual influence. His focus on adulation blinds him to his real power — something that can’t be measured in likes or clicks or links. He changed American politics so drastically, the other racists don’t need him anymore.