On Tuesday, President Trump stood before Congress and read a speech. The speech wasn’t particularly memorable. It wasn’t particularly well written. And it certainly wasn’t an accurate reflection of the state of the union.
If you wanted to understand the actual state of our union, the last place to look was in Trump’s rhetorical dud. Teleprompters, boilerplate blah-blah-blah and the limp language of Stephen Miller don’t tell you much about where we are at as a country.
If you want to understand what really moves Trump, there’s an easy way to do it: Just look at his Twitter feed. His tweets provide an unfiltered window into what he actually cares about. They show a man who cares about himself but cares little for others. They show a man who whines about every injustice done to him but remains silent about the injustices he inflicts on others. And they show all this with mathematical precision, because it’s easy enough to simply count up how often he tweets about any given subject. And when you analyze the 280-character outbursts on his feed, the results are as damning as they are objective.
First, there’s the narcissism. With Trump, it’s all about him, all the time. Since taking office, Trump has tweeted 51 times about “ratings,” be it his TV ratings for his inauguration, his approval ratings, or the “Fox & Friends” ratings. He’s boasted about his “crowds” on Twitter 44 times.
Compare that to how many times he has tweeted about poverty: only twice, even though 39.7 million Americans live in poverty. This is the man who claimed to be the champion of those “forgotten Americans” during the campaign.
Then there’s his unhealthy obsession with his perceived “enemies,” be it the media, Hillary Clinton, James B. Comey or Robert S. Mueller III. He’s called the press “fake news” 357 times since taking office — about once every two days, on average. He’s channeled his inner Joseph Stalin, calling the media “the enemy of the people” no fewer than 20 separate times on Twitter.
Hillary Clinton has appeared on his feed a staggering 151 times since the inauguration, with 103 mentions of her as “Crooked Hillary.” (Just imagine President Barack Obama still obsessing over Mitt Romney every few days in 2014, and it’s obvious how bizarre it is). Trump is just as hung up on Comey, who has graced the president’s tweets 117 separate times. Mueller, by comparison, is comparatively forgotten, with only 72 mentions. But don’t worry — Trump has lashed out at Mueller’s “WITCH HUNT” an impressive 166 times.
Compare that to mentions of the opioid epidemic, which killed nearly 50,000 Americans last year. Trump has tweeted about opioids just 16 times, even though he pledged that “I alone can fix it” during the campaign. In case you’re counting (and I am), that’s 10 times more attention paid to calling the special counsel investigation a “witch hunt” than focusing national attention on a deadly, out-of-control epidemic that kills 130 Americans per day. Perhaps that helps explain why he tasked a 24-year-old campaign worker with helping to oversee the government’s response to the most serious public health crisis in the United States for some time.
What about other priorities? He has praised one dictator, Kim Jong Un, more times on Twitter (26) than he’s tweeted about human rights (four times). He’s misspelled the word “counsel” the same number of times (six) as he has tweeted about “education.” And even though American income inequality is now on par with Russian levels of inequality, Trump has tweeted about Nordstrom more (once) than about inequality (zero).
“Climate change” has never shown up in his tweets since taking office, but “global warming” has three times — when he mocked the clear scientific consensus on the matter by pointing to cold weather, on one day, in one region, to try to show that he knows better than the world’s smartest scientists.
Trump’s tweets are a better reflection of the commander in chief than any manicured speech. They reflect him, unvarnished, in all his vanity. And they tell a story that should not amuse us, but alarm us. America’s top public servant uses his bully pulpit not to serve others, but to serve himself. And that, more than any speech, is the real state of our union.