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Science & Technology

Trump Vs. Twitter: What Swift Change In This Relationship Means For The Nation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Transformative, unprecedented, norm-busting - all these terms have been applied to describe the tenure of President Trump. And the tool the president has most often used as he's transformed the presidency is Twitter.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Has the president already tweeting this morning, as you saw...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: A whole series of tweets from the president of the United States...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: He said in this tweet that McCabe - his firing was a great day for Americans...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Making headlines, the president hit back on Twitter. And among other things...

CHANG: In the wee hours last night, in a tweet that Twitter itself objected to, saying it broke rules about glorifying violence, the president called protesters thugs. And he said, quote, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Here to talk more about all of this is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: So anyone who follows the president like you do essentially becomes a student of his tweets. What would you say is different about what he tweeted last night?

RASCOE: I have studied Trump's tweets extensively, with two big projects published in the past two years really focused on how Trump talks about black and brown people on Twitter. Twitter is how he speaks to his base and drives the news cycle, but it's also where he's at his most bombastic and really incendiary.

CHANG: Right.

RASCOE: And last night was a moment where this is the most dramatic unrest that this country has seen during Trump's presidency. A police precinct was on fire in Minneapolis. And in the middle of this moment of frustration and rage, Trump's talking about using the military to crack down on American citizens. And that message about looting starting and shooting starting dates back to the 1960s in a Miami police chief talking about how the threat of police shooting was keeping poor black neighborhoods from engaging in criminal activity. This decades-old type of law and order tough-on-crime rhetoric is reflective of the very policies that people in Minneapolis have been protesting.

CHANG: Well, OK. He walked that statement back a little bit today and he just spoke about it. Can you just walk us through what the president is saying now?

RASCOE: He just addressed some of this. He talked to - he said that he's talked to Floyd's family, and that this should have never happened. He tried to draw this line between peaceful protesters and those destroying property. Here's more from him on that.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have peaceful protesters and support the rights for peaceful protesters. We can't allow a situation like happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos.

RASCOE: You know, everyone had kind of expected him to talk about this earlier, but at an earlier event today in the Rose Garden, but he didn't. He addressed it just now. He did address the controversy about the looting and the shooting on Twitter - that statement. He tweeted that he was simply stating a fact, that looting often leads to violence and that he wasn't making a statement. And he claimed that, quote, "only haters have a problem with what he tweeted." You know, all of this happened hours after those late-night tweets talking about the thugs and the looting leading to shooting.

CHANG: Well, can we just pull back for a second and take a look at his record in office so far? During his time in office, what action has President Trump taken on racial inequality in the justice system that perhaps he does deserve some credit for?

RASCOE: Well, he did sign a bipartisan legislation that lowered some prison sentences, but that law did not deal with policing issues. And when it comes to law enforcement, Trump came into the White House saying he was going to be tough on crime and that he would protect the police. He rolled back some agreements that the previous administration had made with law - with police departments, and that has been his focus is talking about protecting the police from criticism. Other than these narrow cases where he's - there's a video and he says that he's sympathetic with the victim.

CHANG: All right. That is White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM MISCH AND YUSSEF DAYES' "SENSATIONAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.