Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most effective communicators to occupy the White House, was president for 4,422 days. People remember him for his fireside chats. Asked to guess, many would estimate that those chats happened weekly, however, there were only thirty. Four given in 1933, the year he took office, at the depth of the Great Depression dealt with the New Deal and plans for recovery. During the middle years of his presidency topics ranged from currency problems, problems related to drought, and the fall of Rome. The last 12 fireside chats occurred during the war years.
These radio broadcasts lasted around half an hour with the shortest lasting only 11 minutes and 25 seconds and the longest being nearly three quarters of an hour.
The intent of the fireside chat was to bring Americans up-to-date on events that, for the most part, had already transpired. One, for instance, recapped the accomplishments of the 73rd Congress. FDR presided during two of the worst events of America’s existence; the Great Depression and World War II, yet Americans heard from him relatively infrequently. It was the quality of his communication that made it so memorable and effective.
Donald Trump, by contrast, has communicated mainly through the use of the 140 character tweet.
The variety and extent of President Trump’s tweets can be found here.
In contrast to FDR’s 30 fireside chats, President Donald J. Trump has tweeted thousands of times over a variety of subjects. Many have been retorts to real or imagined attacks on him. It is impossible to summarize his tweets; there have been 2,621 since January 1, 2017.
Thirteen of Trump’s tweets have been about how great he is. As an example, “I have a very high I.Q,- and you all know it.”
A large number have dealt with problem solving. For example, “Nobody but Donald Trump will save Israel.”
The word “dumb” or “dummy” appeared in 224 tweets. The word, “terrible” appeared in 204 tweets.
Global warming is described as a “hoax”, “total con job”, “mythical”, “created by and for the Chinese” and a number of other adjectives.
Most, if not all, of Trump’s tweets make unfounded assertions. In 140 characters it is difficult to build an argument and provide facts.
Facts do not seem to be important to President Trump; in fact he usually characterizes arguments with supporting facts as “fake news”.
Sixty-four tweets have dealt with President Barack Obama. This tweet is typical: “"Obama our Welfare & Food Stamp President...He doesn't believe in work." The tweets seemed determined to destroy Obama’s legacy with comments like, “"How the hell did he get into Columbia & Harvard?", and, “"Everything he touches turns to garbage".
Trump has a particular disdain for the media, and 298 tweets have been concerned with insulting news media with tweets like, “Time Magazine ‘lost all credibility when they didn't include me in their Top 100’ (10/26/2012)”
Trump has a lifelong history of dismissing women through sexist comments. When Meryl Streep, winner of multiple awards for her acting skills said, his: "...instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone's life because it gives permission for others to do the same.”
Trump responded by calling Streep “overrated”. His attacks on other women have been much more crude and sexist.
A major difference between FDR and DJT lies in the intended audience of each man. Roosevelt sought to inform all Americans. Trump seems to only be interested in maintaining his conservative base, the 30% or so who are white and poorly educated. Roosevelt served over three terms in office, dying in his fourth term. It will be interesting to see whether Trump serves out even one term. His gamble that his base and independents will be enough to get him re-elected seems risky, but nothing that has seemed risky has seemed to touch Trump, so far.