After a brief Christmas Day break, President-elect Donald Trump re-emerged on Twitter, his pulpit of choice, mixing self-promotion, vague suggestions about foreign policy and questionable statements about his charitable foundation in a storm of post-holiday tweets. According to incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, that approach is likely to be the norm as the country moves forward into 2017.
In an interview with a television station in his home state of Rhode Island over the weekend, Spicer said to expect Trump to continue to go directly to the public via social media rather than relying on traditional filters like the White House press office and the media.
“He does communicate in a much bigger way than ever’s been done before, and I think that’s going to be a really exciting part of the job,” said Spicer, currently the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee.
“I think that his use of social media in particular … is gonna be something that’s never been seen before,” Spicer told WPRI. “He has this direct pipeline in the American people, where he can talk back and forth.”
While it might not come as a great surprise to the nation’s diplomatic corps, it serves as confirmation that an era of carefully considered and closely vetted statements about international affairs is probably coming to an end.
On Sunday, Trump continued fulminating about the decision by the Obama administration last week to abstain from voting on a U.N. Security Council measure censuring Israel for building settlements in both disputed territory and on land owned by Palestinians. Israel and its most hardline supporters in the U.S. had called on the Obama administration to veto the resolution, and were infuriated when it was allowed to pass.
In a notable break from protocol, Trump last week called for a veto in advance of the vote and then criticized the sitting president’s administration for not taking his position, promising -- in a tweet, naturally -- “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”
On Monday, he blasted the U.N. in general, writing, “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
The president-elect’s return to social media after the holiday appears to have been jump-started by remarks President Obama made in an interview Monday suggesting that be believes that he could have beaten Trump had it been legal for him to run for a third term.
It was that remark that prompted the president-elect’s first post-Christmas tweet, late Monday afternoon, in which he declared, “President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! - jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
It was as if a dam had finally broken, and Trump’s brief Christmas silence was no more.
He followed up shortly thereafter by claiming that his election had lifted a pall of gloom from the planet, and that a rising stock market and holiday spending increases were also due to the prospect of a Trump presidency.
The world was gloomy before I won - there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016
Then, though, Trump moved on to different territory. News broke over the weekend that he would be shutting down the controversial Trump Foundation, which Trump has repeatedly characterized as a benevolent charitable organization, to avoid conflict of interest charges during his time in the Oval Office.
The problem, though, was that much of what Trump said about his foundation was either exaggerated or flat out untrue, something that is now widely known thanks to the dogged reporting of The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
“I gave millions of dollars to DJT Foundation, raised or [received] millions more, ALL of which is given to charity, and media won't report!” Trump wrote.
In fact, Trump has not personally donated a penny to the Trump Foundation since 2009. In recent years, much of the money given to the foundation has come from professional wrestling impresarios Vince and Linda McMahon. Mrs. McMahon was recently nominated to serve as a member of Trump’s cabinet, helming the Small Business Administration. Trump also has a history of soliciting money from other charitable organizations, and then repackaging that money as a donation from the Trump Foundation.
Trump’s claim that “ALL” of the donations to the foundation have gone to charitable causes was echoed in a follow-up tweet.
“The DJT Foundation, unlike most foundations, never paid fees, rent, salaries or any expenses. 100% of money goes to wonderful charities!”
Unfortunately, that is also pretty clearly untrue. The Post’s Fahrenthold uncovered multiple examples of the Trump Foundation spending money impermissibly, including the purchase of large portraits of Trump himself and professional sports memorabilia, which Trump used to decorate his commercial properties. More controversially, the foundation has been accused of using its funds to settle legal debts owed by Trump’s for-profit business. The attorney general of the state of New York is currently investigating the Trump Foundation for various violations of law governing non-profits, and the Trump Foundation itself has admitted to breaking rules against self-dealing in a filing with the Internal Revenue Service.
Trump’s incoming White House staff is putting a brave face on their boss’s determination to continue using Twitter and other social media platforms to communicate with the public, but the intense media pressure that comes with the Oval Office is going to amplify apparent policy statements, misleading claims and outright falsehoods even well beyond the considerable range Trump already has as president-elect.
“Exciting” may not be the word incoming press secretary Spicer and his colleagues are using to describe the president’s social media habits a few months from now.