It feels like it took me a lifetime to work my way through this bizarrely friendly piece up on Politico today about the guy who taught Donald Trump how to tweet, so now I must foist it on you.
The story opens in medias res in February 2013, with our apparent hero, the young (now former) Trump Organization social media manager Justin McConney, realizing that his monster has become self-aware:
When Trump’s young social media manager saw the tweet, he was perplexed. He typically typed and sent Trump’s tweets for the boss, but in this case he hadn’t. He did recall that Trump had been spending a lot of time in his office lately playing around with a new Android smartphone.
The next morning, the handful of staffers with access to the boss’s account told the social media manager, Justin McConney, that they had not sent it either.
That’s when it dawned on him: Donald Trump had tweeted on his own for the first time.
He goes on to make the obvious allusion to Jurassic Park—we all know that didn’t end well the first time around, but luckily enough for the eternal optimists, they’re still making sequels—to raise the stakes of this revelation (emphasis mine):
“The moment I found out Trump could tweet himself was comparable to the moment in ‘Jurassic Park’ when Dr. Grant realized that velociraptors could open doors,” recalled McConney, who was the Trump Organization’s director of social media from 2011 to 2017. “I was like, ‘Oh no.””
At the time, no one — not even McConney himself — could grasp what was to come. Now, in rare on-the-record interviews with POLITICO, McConney who left the Trump Organization last year, has laid out the story of Trump’s journey from an old-school luddite to a social media maven.
I too am like, “Oh no.”
What follows is a lukewarm accounting of McConney’s quick rise in the Trump empire—he was called in as a 24-year-old film school grad to meet the boss without a suit on, can you imagine!—which includes such accounts as encouraging Trump to get his various allegedly criminal enterprises accounts on YouTube (I shudder in recognition) and Twitter. A sound, middle-of-the-road social media strategy! The brand is strong with this one!
The story also includes photos from McConney’s personal collection, showing him and the old boss posing with Jimmy Fallon and Christian Bale. There’s also a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Trump’s Ice Bucket Challenge response. (I feel absolutely ancient.)
But what the piece is curiously missing is any critical eye on McConney’s decision to work for Trump at all, his eventual decision to leave the Trump Organization, or any criticism of his former boss’ current incarnation as the president of the United States. I swear to god, this is as close as we get to self-reflection:
He also has a warning for the president and his social team: Up your game if you want to stay competitive in 2020.
“He needs to return to engaging directly with his fans again,” advised McConney, now a social media consultant, who said Trump should look beyond Twitter and pay more attention to other platforms. The president’s Instagram account has become particularly bland and impersonal, he warned, and he wondered why Trump had not been using the platform’s popular ‘Stories’ function, which other politicians — including Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rival, Beto O’Rourke — have used to great effect.
“He should be livestreaming from the Oval Office,” McConney said.
Spoiler alert! None of Trump’s supporters care if he’s impersonal on a massive platform because he’s never going to be “bland.” I’ll go a step further: Trump’s use of Twitter didn’t win him the 2016 election! Most of this country isn’t even on the site; they’re on Facebook, posting racist memes about the Obamas. What his tweets achieved was whipping the media into a fact-checking frenzy and a defensive crouch, and people loved seeing all those CNN people with their hair a little mussed for once. It’s never really been about Twitter, and it’s still not.