Donald Trump sent the 2,559th tweet of his presidency on Saturday. Like many before, it was combative and vague and quite popular.
“So much Fake News is being reported,” Trump wrote — perhaps referring to reports that he had complained of immigrants from “shithole countries,” or perhaps rebutting the previous night’s NBC News report that he once called a career intelligence analyst a “pretty Korean lady.”
The 2,559th tweet did reasonably well, by Trump’s standards. More than 124,000 people “liked” it. Trump is not the most popular president, according to opinion polls, but he is an extraordinary tweeter. He doesn’t call himself @realDonaldTrump for nothing.
Gary Lee’s screen name, on the other hand, is @whoisgarylee. Maybe because, well, who is Gary Lee? Google him, and not much comes up. He had never tweeted before Saturday, when Trump’s words inspired him to begin.
Lee once worked in the White House, too, as an assistant staff secretary under President Obama. But that was hardly a high-profile position. Assistant staff secretaries don’t often make the news.
“Who am I, other than just some Korean American kid from Albuquerque, New Mexico?” Lee used to think to himself, he once said in a 2011 interview with his alma mater, the University of Southern California. It only appeared on the school’s website, so you might have missed it at the time.
But the gratification of managing email systems on a presidential campaign, or saying, “This is the White House,” into a phone after Obama's Inauguration Day, changed the way Lee thought of himself and his place in history, he told the school.
“My Korean-born-and-raised parents both came to America as young adults, knowing a bare minimum of English, having a handful of family to rely on, and coping with a true culture shock,” Lee once wrote. One generation later, their son had a bachelor's degree in political science and was working for the president.
And even if not many outside the White House knew who Lee was when he left the staff in 2011, Obama did.
As he remembered these things on Saturday, and read about Trump's words, Lee decided to tell his story again. Not to the university this time, but to anyone who cared to hear. So he logged into @whoisgarylee and wrote his first-ever tweet, then his second and third, and 14th.
And as he wrote, many read.
Lee had said all this before. He told his old university how much Obama’s “안녕하세요” had meant to him in 2011, shortly after he left the White House to study in his parents’ homeland. “It says a lot about the man himself,” Lee had said, “but it also says how far we’ve come.”
Lee still believes in that optimism, he wrote Saturday — on the same weekend President Trump issued his 2,559th tweet, and his 2,560th, and more besides that.
But none of them were quite as popular as Lee’s first tweet, introducing a thread about a different president’s respect for other cultures, which was “liked” by 142,000 people and counting. And every one of those people now knows who Gary Lee is.