The president tweets a lot. It's quickly becoming part of his legacy, offering an unprecedented level of access to the commander in chief and leaving others in government scrambling to deal with the after-effects of each post. Usually, reflections on presidential legacies tend to come at the end of the individual's term in office, with an official presidential library foremost on the list. However, given the current pace of the Trump administration, The Daily Show decided to act a little sooner. This weekend it opened its own presidential Twitter library in midtown Manhattan to illustrate how our interactions with the president may have changed forever.
Every president since FDR has had a presidential library, but, as Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper pointed out, Trump "communicates totally different than any president we've seen before." We don't know how much paperwork the president is generating, but we do see the tweets he sends out unedited and unfiltered. The library focuses on collecting those into a space where visitors can look at them as part of a larger whole.
Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2014
The museum's content was collected by The Daily Show's digital department, which had to read every single one of Trump's tweets as part of the show's "Third Month Mania" event back in March. They picked out the ones they found most interesting and threw them into a tournament bracket, letting viewers vote on the best tweets in each round. The voters eventually settled on his "gross incompetence" tweet as the top post.
While it's easy to dismiss this current project as a gag, given that it is a temporary exhibit put on by a cable show on a comedy network, the library takes its subject somewhat seriously. For the most part, it refrains from pointed commentary, treating its subject to the same sort of organization and context you'd see for artworks in a museum gallery. A few choice tweets are printed out and framed, like the infamous taco bowl tweet and the more recent covfefe typo, with labels that give you the time, date and medium -- "Twitter for Android," of course. The cards also contain the sort of overwrought copy you often find on works of modern art talking about influences, like the taco bowl's "oblique symbolism" that "embodies Trump's trademark patriotism," and comparing "covfefe" to Gilbert Stuart's "Unfinished Portrait" of George Washington.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
Daily Show host Trevor Noah said the museum is about "giving context to the tweets; not absorbing them one bite at a time, but looking at them as a body of work." So the exhibit organizes and displays Trump's tweets by subject, with comments on movies and TV shows grouped as "Constructive Criticism." An entire pillar is dedicated to "Concern for the Integrity of the American Presidency," featuring tweets from his period as a vocal birther.
Another wall in the library drilled down to more specific points of interest -- like Trump's commentary on the dissolution of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's relationship. The tweets on this wall are presented together as a narrative, a sort of physical version of Storify, focused on such ephemeral things as Diet Coke. A few of the president's Twitter targets have their portraits on display as well, accompanied by the relevant tweet and a sound bite from them.
I know Mark Cuban well. He backed me big-time but I wasn't interested in taking all of his calls.He's not smart enough to run for president!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017
Despite all this attention to replicating a traditional museum layout, The Daily Show still had a little fun with the concept. There was a giant Magnetic Poetry–esque display where you could rearrange typical Trump words into a tweet. A Trump nickname generator gave me the moniker "Sleepy Kris," which honestly isn't that inaccurate. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a stage replica of the Oval Office. But instead of sitting behind the Resolute desk, attendees were asked to put on a robe and sit on a golden toilet to compose a presidential tweet in 30 seconds. Noah said this is how they imagine Trump does most of his Twittering, no different from many of us. It's not intended as an insult: Noah referred to him as the "millennial president," with some of the same problems, like a fear of losing our job because of something we posted online.
But the similarities should end there -- most of our tweets don't have the power to affect the economy or foreign relations. The speed at which these presidential missives come is changing how the media reacts to the news, even a program like The Daily Show. Klepper explained that with so much information coming out, it's more to pick and choose what they cover, drilling down into specific topics rather than trying to keep up with each new development.
The Daily Show does consider Trump's Twitter official statements by the President, regardless of whether they're being posted on a personal account. "He's speaking for America," Klepper said, especially since he doesn't have a lot of press conferences and his tweets have the ability to affect policy. When I asked Klepper if he thought this could be the end of the prepared statement, he said, "God, I hope not. It's okay to get some unfiltered thoughts, but I do miss the days when people thought about what they were going to say and the consequences they have."
The Fake News Media hates when I use what has turned out to be my very powerful Social Media - over 100 million people! I can go around them
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
This Twitter gallery is meant to be a living work, with a screen displaying Trump's live feed that sounds an alarm whenever it's updated. But, like a deleted tweet, the library is also ephemeral: It's open only this weekend in New York, closing its doors on Sunday. That doesn't preclude the Daily Show from doing it again, or taking it on the road to other cities. The library is even looking for sponsors, though Noah joked that an unnamed resort in Florida that they contacted never got back to them.
Photos and additional reporting by Cherlynn Low.