The most romantic and seeming true picture of the writer is this: fevered at his desk in the late hours of the night, hands dotted with ink, floor littered with crumpled stanzas, hunched and scribbling in a fit of inspiration as sleep, that temptress, eludes him.
In the early morning hours of Friday, the 30th of September, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump took up this standard and assumed the ultimate expression of creativity—with a few minor adjustments. His paper was an Android smartphone. His lines of verse were semicoherent tweets. His pen was a tiny, tiny finger.
Luckily, we don’t have to merely imagine how and when the tweetstorm rolled in: The marvel of modern technology allows us to follow his process closely, to imagine his frenetic jabbings in real-time. The weather report is as follows.
A popular component of Georgian-era Gothic novels was the frame story, or one story nested into another one, used most famously and exhaustively in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (although it remains the blueprint for most SVU episodes today). Trump puts the frame story into dubious use here, where the actual subject of his tweet, an unspecified media story, is placed within the narrative of his efforts to preemptively discredit that story. It is difficult to parse just where the layers of mediation begin and end, though, with so many actions stacked on top of each other: the reader of the tweet seeing a news story, the story citing sources, and the sources themselves, sourcing.
Further befuddling the tangled structure of this narrative are the ambiguous meanings of his shrewdly crafted sentences. In the first sentence, Trump says “me or my campaign,” which allows for two possible readings: The first, that the aforementioned story concerns either Trump or his campaign; the second, that the reader of the tweet may either come across a story about Mr. Trump or an instance of his campaign “saying ‘sources said.'”
The trend of double-meanings continues at the end, when he asserts, “There are no sources, they are just made up lies!” In the context of the tweet, the reader knows that “sources” are human people, but Mr. Trump’s syntax refutes that idea, claiming instead that the human people themselves are in fact lies, figments, specious abstractions of the Clintonian hive mind.
Rather than questioning the veracity of the unspecified story in question, Trump makes uncertain the very nature of existence, casting the media’s sources into metaphysical purgatory, never to source again.
No doubt exhausted at the effort he had just expended mapping a multi-layered romance novel, Trump dispenses with the use of frame stories to zero in, nearly two hours later, on his real target: Hillary Rodham Clinton, First of Her Name, Queen of the Pantsuit.
But though he employs his favored epithet for HRC, “Crooked,” Trump goes on to cast her as a victim of a much more nefarious character: the 1996 Miss Universe winner, Alicia Machado. He calls her “my worst Miss U,” which is a bit like a disenchanted gymnastics coach calling an Olympian “my worst gold medalist.”
What Trump does not discard, though, his is use of ambiguity. “Hillary floated her as an angel,” he writes, “without checking her past, which is terrible!” The craftsmanship behind this sentence renders the reader unable to determine which is terrible: Ms. Machado’s past, or Hillary’s decision not to dig into it. This not only gives Trump the opportunity to say “I never said that” and still be partially right, but it subtly, deftly suggests that everything is terrible. Which, again, wouldn’t be wrong.
4:19 a.m. — the sea churns
Similar to the foibles of his tweet from five minutes ago, this verse suffers from an inability to lay blame squarely on one person. Trump means to criticize Hillary, but is unable to continue that line of thought for more than one sentence. Indeed, despite his invocation of Hillary’s “BAD JUDGEMENT (sic)” in belligerent uppercase, he immediately goes on to suggest that his opponent’s judgment might not be the real issue. Instead, use of the passive voice in the next sentence, and calling Ms. Machado a “con,” posits that HRC may merely be the victim of deceit and treachery, that it was a beauty contest winner from the 1990s we should have been worried about all along.
(Why, though, is she a con? Why not the paragon of virtue we so complacently accepted her to be? Trump may not be a master of the English sentence, but he sure does know a thing or two about drumming up suspense…)
4:30 a.m. — lightning strikes the beach
Here, the persistent ambiguity of Trump’s previous tweets finally pays off. While we have scratched and shaken our heads, wondering exactly who this sentient cheetoh is trying to excoriate, Trump has been preparing for the death blow. In the same sentence, he hints that Hillary may have granted someone citizenship for political gain and (in parentheses) points the masses to an amateur pornographic film Ms. Machado may have made in years past. This was indeed a double-pronged attack. Mr. Trump was, in fact, gearing up to slander his opponent with preposterous claims and shame a young woman with hitherto unseen levels of creepiness—all in one fell tweet. Extraordinary.
That he posed the tweet as a question is also a marvel: it’s not a statement if you put this squiggly hieroglyph at the end of it, see? I never said that. I never said that.
7:50 a.m. — driftwood washes ashore
The sun has risen over the Atlantic. The gulls are squawking. The city is rousing. Trump, it seems, has taken a brief white power nap and, newly energized, adds one final flotsam to the tweetstorm of the century. “Remember,” he croons, don’t believe the media. They are VERY dishonest. Their sources don’t exist; they have been re-assimilated into the ectoplasm.
The source the media would go on to cite the next day would, of course, be Trump’s very own tweets, a scenario he obviously considered. But the sources do not exist. He never said that.
Somewhere, far off shore, a disappearing tweet screams as a Washington Post article snuffs it out of this mortal plane. The frame is complete. The story is secure.
Long live Chairman Trump.