US President Donald Trump made some sweeping promises during his historic campaign to win the election last year.
The most interesting was that he would ‘drain the swamp’. This meant he would clean up Washington [which is believed to have been founded on top of a swamp]. This claim today appears ridiculous because Trump does not appear to have any competence at all in governing or in politics. He was sold as a sort of genius. But his first months in office have shown him to be a clownish figure who is also vain, angry and unable to exercise minimum control over his administration.
This would otherwise not be visible, but Trump’s insistence on daily tweeting has amplified his erratic behaviour. He offers his opinion incessantly and in a state of great excitement [he is fond of using exclamation marks], and so makes things difficult for those in charge of maintaining his image.
Here Trump offers a contrast to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is also fond of using Twitter, but does so differently from Trump.
Both men have three crore followers and both use social media to reach their voters directly, because neither man trusts journalists. Trump believes he is being treated unfairly and that his genius is not recognised or appreciated by his opponents and the media. Modi thinks that his history with communal violence is used against him even though, according to him, he did nothing wrong.
Social media’s rise, which came after Modi took office in Gujarat, offered him the chance to eliminate the media layer and he has done this very effectively. Till the arrival of Twitter, he constantly got into squabbles with journalists [walking off from one interview with Karan Thapar on air]. This showed that he feels anger and irritation as much as Trump does, but he handles it very differently now.
The difference between the ways the two men use Twitter comes in the first instance from content. Trump offers his opinion on things frequently and is not afraid to show his anger or irritation. On May 18th, the US Justice Department launched an investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with the Russians. Trump tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” He also compared himself to previous presidents and said he was not being treated fairly: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”
Trump is also rude and does not hesitate to attack journalists or other individuals through his Twitter account. On May 12th, Trump tweeted: “The Fake Media is working overtime today!”
It could be said that he is being honest, but it is difficult to see how this sort of childish behaviour helps Trump in any way. This is where Modi is different. Although I said that both men feel the same way about the media, but Modi is extremely restrained when communicating formally. His Twitter feed is usually just a list of things he did for the day. For example, on May 19th: “Interacted with a delegation of the Nagaland Tribes Council today.” Or he wishes people, especially other politicians, on their birthdays.
Like this on May 17th: “Greetings to former PM and leader of farmers, Shri HD Deve Gowda ji on his birthday. May Almighty bless him with good health and a long life.” And this on May 19th: “Dear President @ashrafghani, wishing you a wonderful birthday. May you be blessed with a long and healthy life.”
Modi also advertises policy announcements, though he usually links the tweets to reports published on his own official website rather than that of newspapers.
It is impossible to assess what the prime minister of India is thinking by going through his Twitter feed, which is not the case with the US president. It has become easy for journalists to even learn which channels Trump watches, because after watching it he immediately tweets something in response.
Both Trump and Modi came into politics as outsiders promising to clean up the system. One has been on the job for a little over three years and the other only a little over three months. But already Trump is not only being linked to failure but being seen as an incompetent, by many including some of his own supporters. Modi, on the other hand, has also made mistakes and overpromised. However, his cautious and careful approach has insulated him from criticism.
Trump’s daily childish hysterics and breast beating about how he is being mistreated are working against him. It has become embarrassing to watch the holder of the world’s most powerful office.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2017.