What is @realDonaldTrump up to on Twitter?

The American president believes that parts of the media are his enemy and wants to speak directly to voters. So he finds a way to communicate with them in a style that is utterly his own. The nation is captivated, even as a handful of critics warn of a slide toward demagoguery.

That president is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1933 began using homespun radio broadcasts – dubbed “fireside chats” – to forge a new connection with Americans.

Now, nearly a century later, another president is using a different technology to similar ends.

Mr. Trump’s tweets – which are amplified by the mainstream media – perform multiple functions.

  1. They help form a bond with his supporters, who relish his feed as an unfettered glimpse into his thinking.
  2. They can serve to change the national conversation from topic to another.
  3. And they provide an instant way to fulfill Mr. Trump’s craving for attention, his biographers say.

.. The fact that the tweets don’t sound like any other prior form of presidential communication is part of their power. “Up to this point, presidents had a private self and a public self and we’ve never known if they’re the same,” said Prof. Jamieson. But it’s reasonable to infer that “what we see on Twitter is actually who Donald Trump is.”

.. Some experts see calculation rather than stream-of-consciousness in Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at the University of California Berkeley, has written that Mr. Trump’s tweets serve four strategic purposes:

  1. to divert attention from continuing controversies,
  2. to float political trial balloons,
  3. to frame ideas in advantageous ways and
  4. to deflect criticism by blaming the messenger (usually the news media).

.. the former president made sparing use of the fireside chats to maintain their impact. “Even if you are president of the United States, people will ultimately discount what you say, but it will take a long time.”