Donald Trump with one of the few politicians he follows; his vice-president elect, Mike Pence. Photograph: Sam Greene/ddp USA/Barcroft
Donald Trump, with over 16 million followers on Twitter, famously follows only 40 people himself. If you take a look at his list, it’s like your dad joined Twitter to find out what all the fuss was about, followed his direct relatives and everyone in his book club, then got bored.
It has a sudden, inorganic feel, as if it were built in a day; nearly a quarter of the follows are for his own hotels and golf clubs, so a lot of the timeline is filled with pictures of diced vegetables and there are as many links as hyperlinks.
The Trumps junior use Twitter like regular people use Facebook, for animals, babies, palm trees and high-value consumer items. Donald follows barely any politicians – none of the Republicans who routinely go out to bat for him (Guliani, Chris Christie): except Mike Pence, Indiana Governor and now vice-president elect, whose tweets, breathy and banal, read like a bot-generated Enid Blyton character. “Back to work at Trump Tower. Busy morning with important announcements already & more to come.”
There is method to it, though, once you strip out the figures that are probably intended to be “humanising”; it’s a tight little list of conservative commentators, marching to the same insistent beat, iterating and reiterating, linking to each other and back again, clustering around words and phrases to give a neologism the ring of a saying, niche positions the status of common sense.
Piers Morgan is the only British tv personality Trump follows. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock
They are Laura Ingraham, a primmer version of Ann Coulter, and Coulter herself; Piers Morgan, who needs no explaining to British audiences, except to maybe explain that, if you haven’t been keeping track of his output, it has got a lot worse, and broadcasters/ shock jocks Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. A couple are members of Trump’s campaign team – Katrina Pierson, Dan Scavino – but overwhelmingly, they are either media organisations (Fox), platforms (Drudge Report), or media people who, as they would have it, are beleaguered and persecuted outsiders.
There is one account of two genuine unknowns – DiamondandSilk, women of colour who say things like “Rosie [O’Donnell] better keep Barron’s name out her mouth and concentrate on her own children”, then will have a few tweets flogging their special edition Christmas baubles. There is a surprising amount of merchandise and product placement in the mix, a dire warning about ISIS followed by a paean to a turkey deep-frying machine.
If social media generally, and Twitter in particular is known as an echo chamber, the place you go to hear people exactly like you tell you they agree, this is more of a hall of mirrors. Trump’s timeline looks a lot like a succession of pictures of himself, as the hallowed tweet one another’s articles back and forth. The Drudge report often flags a link to a story with the simple caption AMERICAN TRUMP.
Fox News personality Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s biggest supporters, has been followed by the president elect. Photograph: Rick Scuteri/AP
Ann Coulter links to her column in Breitbart where she helpfully spells out the extent of what Trump stands for, masking her kite-flying with a pugilistic frame. “Most of his promises can be kept with little trouble: He will appoint good judges, cut regulations, replace Obamacare and renegotiate trade deals. In other words, he’ll do all the things any Republican president would do — plus the trade deals. But the moment Trump attempts to make good on his central promise — to remove troublesome immigrants and give us our country back — every major institution in America will declare war on him.”
These are the two policy themes: the threat of Muslims, and American jobs for American people. The hatred of immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular, is relentless, and international: one in four British Muslims wants Sharia law; one in three immigrants in Vienna is wanted for a crime; a Muslim in Slovenia gets his comeuppance when he’s handed a ten-year prison sentence for throwing a rock at a policeman; Barack Obama presided over an influx of Somalian refugees comprising 90% Muslims. All pretence at a differentiation between moderate and extreme Islam has been dropped; the religion is a priori a threat to western civilisation – witness the German refugee camp where the children hate Christianity – and every gathering of Muslims acquires the status of an army. The geographical scope gives the striking impression of a global conspiracy. Breitbart and Fox links feature prominently and circularly, but the predominant sources are actually British tabloids and the Telegraph.
The American jobs theme is unabashed triumphalism; Trump’s recent deal with Carrier, in which 1100 jobs were supposedly saved by the promise of a seven million dollar tax break, is hailed as emblematic of a nation saved.
The third leg on the stool is a rather contradictory attack on liberals; on the one hand, everybody – “Occupy, Move on, Black Lives Matter and Obama” – are “alt radical left”, according to Hannity. On the other, and this is a particular bugbear of Ingraham but is held in common to them all, the left are unendurably pathetic, weak and infantile. “For the Pajama Boy Generation, every time they don’t get their way, they need a “grief counsellor.” They’re snowflakes, they need colouring books and cry-rooms, their prizes-for-all culture has left them unable to lose; all of this often illustrated with a picture of a spoilt-looking child crying. It is a pronounced and textured scorn, and underlines the porousness between the British and American right. It’s very common, now, when you argue with a Brexiter on TV, to get a lot of Twitter traffic calling you a snowflake, illustrated with a crying child. I didn’t understand it, since “snowflake” was devised to convey someone who melts at the first criticism; in debating, one plainly isn’t melting. Yet as part of a cross-Atlantic narrative, in which to hold a liberal view is to be a spoilt child who needs a spanking, it does make sense, albeit atmospherically and not rationally.
The word that keeps coming to me, inhabiting this rhetorical community, is unfettered: unfettered by proportionality, consensus, accuracy, restraint, desire for unity. The gloves are off.