Can you learn anything from this, I wonder?
Can we learn anything from doing a keyword search in twitter for tweets from Our President of Shit that contain the word “Tillerson,” and then putting them in a single long paragraph form, in order?
Let us find out; let us make this experiment:
Whether I choose him or not for “State”- Rex Tillerson, the Chairman & CEO of ExxonMobil, is a world class player and dealmaker. Stay tuned! I have chosen one of the truly great business leaders of the world, Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, to be Secretary of State. The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments. Congratulations to Rex Tillerson on being sworn in as our new Secretary of State. He will be a star! I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA! Rex Tillerson never threatened to resign. This is Fake News put out by @NBCNews. Low news and reporting standards. No verification from me. The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again! Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all! Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
It’s an interesting document, but only because we are required to be interested in this person’s utterances. And we are required to be interested in them, something which is worth saying because—like most writing by politicians or government officials—this writing makes you stupider as you read it. Power produces bad writing and bad thinking; this is both. This is worth saying, even if nothing else is.
If it’s an interesting document, it’s interesting because it demonstrates that Trump says a lot of shit and that the things he says don’t cohere or reflect any underlying consistency. That his words lack integrated meaning would be another way to say he lacks integrity in the things he says, which means nothing really means anything; another way to say this would be that he says a lot of shit.
This is what we expected—presidents say a lot of shit—but it’s so much more what we expected than we expected, even given what we had come to expect from him.
Is this interesting? Is it interesting to learn that our president of shit says a lot of shit?
I am using “shit” casually but precisely, by the way, as in the now standard definition offered by Harry Frankfurt: “bullshit” is the aggressive disregard for truth, in which the liar does not so much try to convince you of the truth as render the category of truth itself un-persuasive, un-necessary, and un-possible. Trump, being apathetic as to the truth, doesn’t so much say things as he fills space and time with words. He doesn’t have positions or principles; he has provocations and responses and trolls.
To take it a step farther: the reason Trump fancies himself a “counterpuncher” is because—if we can bear to entertain his ludicrous pugilism for a moment—he isn’t a puncher at all, if by that we mean an original of any kind. He can only respond or provoke because there is nothing to him if no one is looking; without audiences and adversaries, he would simply cease to exist. He is pure subjectivity, as incapable of distinguishing between the first- and third-person as he is of explaining how the economy works. The objective world does not interest him because he doesn’t see the point in it.
He is the president of shit because he is all bullshit. And I am repeating myself—and becoming indistinguishable from pure antipathy—because this is what happens when you get sucked into his clogged drain. There becomes less and less to say, and this makes you angry.
I suppose what’s interesting about this text is the transformation of form: in re-writing all of his tweets this way, the daily context for each tweet gets stripped away, and a very artificial continuity is imposed. These tweets span a period of two years, from December 11, 2016 to December 7, 2018, and though Donald Trump hasn’t learned a new fact since at least the ‘80s—much less grown as a person—he does exist in time, and act according to his position within it. Because his temporality is lost in presenting his tweets in this form, the meaning of the words he tweeted seems to change; in their context, they had a meaning, but in this context, they appear strikingly un-moored, random. That’s because, again (and again, I am repeating myself), he doesn’t so much say things as he fills space and time with words. If you take away the specificity of the space and time, he’s like water poured out of the vessel that gave it a shape.
In re-writing his tweets as a single statement, we see a picture of this randomness: instead of getting a sense of whatever it was that precipitated each tweet—what he was responding to or subtweeting at that particular moment in time—we get a single, flowing narrative, a story in which he says how great Rex Tillerson is a bunch of times and then suddenly says what a piece of shit Rex Tillerson is.
That discontinuity, if it is interesting, is interesting because we are expecting some kind of continuity from him.
But we weren’t, were we? We were expecting to see what we saw: that Donald Trump says a lot of shit.
I knew when I constructed this text and tweeted it that it would get shared and re-tweeted; it’s the sort of thing that gets shared and retweeted. I literally had the thought, as I did it, that I was producing viral content, and it was strange how immediately clear it was that this is what I had done: as it began to get shared and retweeted, it stopped being a funny little thing I had one and became A Viral Tweet.
A modestly viral tweet, I suppose I should say—literally anything Trump ever tweets gets massively more widely shared—but I don’t say that with either pride or shame. Pride and shame implies an individual accomplishment or some action that would reflect on my own personality, but the thing about A Viral Tweet is that it has less and less to do with you as it proliferates (and you feel increasingly alienated from it as it goes, words that you forget how it felt to produce). In fact, I feel kind of bummed that I was right; when you know you’re producing Viral Content, and then you produce it anyway, you’re saying yes to a process that cannot possibly produce new knowledge.
But people don’t share Viral Content because it’s something new; they share it because it connects to some already constructed set of priors. Virality is, in this sense, a function of being told what you already thought; the virus is transmitted and reproduced because it smoothly confirms, flatters, or congenially re-configures something that you had already firmly come to feel. You slam that retweet button because it doesn’t trouble or confuse or question; you click the button because it falls into place.
And so it is confirmed: Donald Trump says a lot of bullshit. Thank goodness we confirmed that!
There has to be a way out of this, doesn’t there? There has to be a way to talk about literally anything but him. And yet the problem is that it’s never really him we’re talking about, because there really is nothing there. And that’s all that an exercise like this one can ever really achieve, after all; it demonstrates that there’s no underlying coherence, no throughline, no truth or integrity to the things he says about any particular subject. Or rather, since we already knew that–and we slammed that retweet button because we already knew that, and we were delighted to hear it–what we learn from the exercise is that there is nothing to learn from the exercise. The odd thing is that that is actually worth knowing.