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Trump in 280 Characters: What Does Wordy @realDonaldTrump Mean for Civilization?

By Published on .

Credit: Photography by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg; Illustration by Chen Wu/Ad Age

If there's been one consolation about President Trump's Twitter obsession, it's been that his tweets, because they're tweets, are over so quickly.

Trump famously rambles on in his speeches and extemporaneous comments IRL, but on Twitter he would shut up more or less quickly because he had to—we all had to. (Sure, he sometimes went on tweetstorms, but those were over pretty quickly, too. A five-tweet tweetstorm of 140-character tweets, after all, was still just 700 characters.)

Now Twitter, in expanding its tweet-length limit from 140 to 280 characters, has effectively invited the world's most notorious Twitter addict to double down. It's as if the bartender, upon seeing the drunk drain his Stoli, has said "One more for the road?"

Speaking of the road, Trump is right now on his Asia-Pacific tour, and he's been tweeting wordily. For instance,

And ...

Did you make it all the way through those? Kind of exhausting, right? They're 247 and 217 characters, respectively. You look at them and you think, I'm not sure I have time for this right now.

Of course, given that Trump is traveling—meaning he has an unusually packed (by Trump standards) schedule, and therefore less time to tweet and watch Fox News (and tweet about watching Fox News)— there's a very good chance his handlers are crafting these wordy and oddly formal (by Trump standards) tweets. We may have to wait for Trump to return to the U.S. and plant himself in front of "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" before we can fully grasp what twice the Twitter Trumpiness might mean.

If he views longer tweets as an invitation to ramble on when he's in one of his cranky-toddler moods, though, it's obviously not gonna be pretty. Much of the media-industrial complex is already devoted to reporting on Trump tweets—cable news anchors, for instance, love reading them aloud—so wordier Trump tweets pretty much guarantee more airtime (and ink and pixels) for POTUS pontification.

It doesn't seem fair to us—and it also doesn't seem fair to Trump. He didn't ask for this. His fans didn't even ask for this. (See "'I wish he'd quit tweeting': Many Trump backers say it's time for him to put down his phone," from The Washington Post.)

He doesn't need this. He doesnt have time for this (the golf course beckons).

What you have to understand is that, for Trump, staying focused for 140 characters is likely already a daunting challenge. (Remember "Despite the constant negative press covfefe"?) He doesn't need the added pressure of 280 characters. He may be literally unable to handle it on a sustained basis.

In May, Stat, the health-news website from Boston Globe Media, published a post by Sharon Begley titled, "Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?" A key passage:

STAT reviewed decades of Trump's on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable. Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump's speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump's brain.

Begley went on to say that in unscripted interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Tom Brokaw and Charlie Rose, "he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which—and this is no mean feat—would have scanned just fine in print."

Can you imagine?

The paradox of Trump's tweetstream is that he somehow comes off as both the addled senior citizen he is and the sullen teenager he once was (a persona he never grew out of, and/or is regressing back into). I'm reminded once again of "Donald Trump's Tweets As An Early 2000s Emo Song," a video released by the Super Deluxe channel on YouTube just weeks into Trump's presidency.

Watch it and think about what happens to the song—what happens to Trump, what happens to civilization—if the tweets stretch twice as long.

God help us.

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