The Three Traits of a Donald Trump Tweetstorm | Opinion

A sort of climatological relation exists between negative news stories about President Donald Trump and the frequency and intensity of his Twitter use: The more ominous the news atmosphere is for him, the more likely we are to see a presidential tweetstorm. And with ongoing talk of impeachment, along with an array of congressional investigations, casting a dark cloud over the president since the release of the redacted Mueller report, we may be entering a protracted monsoon season.

Even on relatively calm days, the president is an increasingly heavy Twitter user. He has averaged about nine tweets per day over the past six months, which Axios reported is up from about five tweets per day during his first six months in office. So, by tweetstorms, I mean periods of inclement weather in which the president at least doubles his average daily Twitter output, sending 18 or more tweets in a 24-hour period. With each passing week, Trump's tweetstorms seem to grow in both frequency and intensity.

May 23 offers an instructive example. Over the course of the day, Hurricane Trump unleashed a torrent of more than two dozen tweets and retweets. Unlike the weather, though, Trump's Twitter feed is nothing if not predictable. Since he became president, his Twitter use has reflected three key rhetorical strategies: dissembling, distracting and discrediting. His tweetstorm on May 23 illustrates each of these motives.

Dissembling refers to a vast category of tweets in which the president lies, pedals personal delusions and wild conspiracy theories, grossly distorts or flat-out denies established and verifiable facts, and otherwise engages in total fabrications. Basically, it is the president's use of Twitter to promote his distorted view of the world.

On May 23, Trump repeated two of his most ubiquitous lies: that the intelligence community was working against him during the 2016 campaign and that the Mueller report found “no obstruction.” Both of these things are demonstrably untrue.

Trump's repeated insistence that the Muller report found no obstruction when, to the contrary, it documented clear, compelling and consistent evidence of obstruction suggests that he is deeply concerned about the political and legal consequences of potential obstruction. Trump has long pushed the baseless and delusional idea that the Mueller investigation was a politically motivated “hoax” and “witch hunt.” The investigation, however, provided incontrovertible evidence that Russia engaged in a sustained cyberterrorist effort to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. It also led to the indictments of 34 people and three companies. This includes six former Trump advisers, five of whom have pleaded guilty.

Distracting refers to the president's attempts to shift the news away from unfavorable stories. Among the most damaging news stories at the moment is continued discussion of the possibility of impeachment hearings. The latest development concerns Justin Amash, the first Republican member of the House to openly call for impeachment. This, of course, is not good news for Trump, and so he aggressively worked on May 23 to shift the topic to everything from the economy to a disaster relief bill to the weather in Missouri.

The president is a master of misdirection, and no one is better at manipulating the news media and changing its focus of attention. The president's recent tough talk on Iran is not only a good example of him trying to shift attention away from talk of impeachment but also exceedingly dangerous. Make no mistake about it: This president would absolutely be willing to start a war to distract from impeachment hearings if they ever began or if it looked like he might lose the election.

Discrediting describes a category of tweets in which Trump attacks and disparages his critics, specifically seeking to undermine them by challenging their honesty and credibility. This was a prominent feature of the president's tweetstorm on May 23, which attacked a wide range of targets, including CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

As an authoritarian, the president regularly seeks to convince his base that he is the only reliable and trustworthy source of news and information. Unfortunately, this campaign of propaganda and disinformation—fueled by Fox News—has largely been successful. And as calls for impeachment of the president grow, so will the frequency and severity of the president's tweetstorms. So take cover. We're in for a period of very bad weather.

Brian L. Ott, a professor of communication studies and director of the TTU Press at Texas Tech University, is co-author, with Greg Dickinson, of The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​