The first months of Biden’s presidency have been characterized by a media lull that has prevailed thanks to the end of his predecessor’s tenure. Trump evaporated as quickly as it takes to delete one regrettable tweet.
Last week two former U.S. presidents put out official statements. The 44th president, Barack Obama, wrote: “I’ve been appalled by heartbreaking violence against civilians [of Myanmar]. … [The] brutal effort to impose its will … will clearly never be accepted by the people and should not be accepted by the wider world.”
The next day, the 45th president, Donald Trump, stated: “What used to be called The Academy Awards and is now called the ‘Oscars’ — a far less important and elegant name — had the lowest Television Ratings in recorded history. … [D]on’t be so politically correct and boring.” He finished up demanding, in all caps: “BRING BACK A GREAT HOST!”
Besides the differences in priorities, there was another big difference between the statements of the two presidents. Obama made his statement on Twitter. Trump emailed his to a mailing list since he is banned from Twitter because of his part in the incitement of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. If he had not been banned, Trump would have of course divided his 129-word declaration into several tweets, which would certainly have dominated the trending list and become an instant headline. But not anymore.
Removed from the big social networks and not firing off White House statements at will, Trump discovered in the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s term that former presidents are forgotten quickly. Most of them accept the return to partial anonymity happily, and even though every president has a big ego, they don’t need media attention like oxygen. But Trump does. Former presidents also don’t get banned from Twitter, which they don’t really care about anyway. But that’s not the case with Trump. He still words his announcements exactly like tweets. But now the effect is almost zero.
It is easy to forget to what extent Trump’s rise to the White House was almost completely a result of the new world of communication. Last week, The Washington Post found that in April 2015, for example, people searched Google for Trump only a quarter as much as they searched for Kim Kardashian. In the same month, Trump’s face appeared on television for a total of about 144 minutes. One year later, he was at 109 hours per month. Now the number of Google searches for Trump has gone back to the level that it was in the middle of 2015, as well as the amount of time in which he appears on the cable networks.
Biden promised America that with him, Americans will not need to think about the president 24 hours a day. This was an enticing promise that felt like a victory, and one that Biden upholds with no difficulty. He has not issued a single tweet since he entered the White House; it is not certain he knows how to do it. If there is no emergency, on the weekend, Biden disappears completely from the public eye. At most we see him going to church. Biden is surrounded by loyal advisers who have been with him for many years and don’t leak anything. The networks are bored. And this is exactly what Americans wanted — this, and finally an end to COVID-19.
Biden’s first 100 days surprised even his most devoted believers, but unintentionally also proved how much of an astonishing media phenomenon Trump was. Without the media, without Twitter, without Facebook, Trump would have never gotten to the White House, and his opinion on the Oscars would’ve been even less interesting than it is now.
Trump changed the Republican Party and shaped it into his racist image, and this is his most significant legacy — but the man fizzled out as quickly as it takes to delete one regrettable tweet.
Tzippy Shmilovitz is a journalist for Yediot Aharonot.