Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

There’s an interesting report in the Washington Post about the traffic to Donald Trump’s new blog. The key interesting upshot is that there’s doesn’t appear to be any traffic.

The key question is why. Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party. Most GOP voters falsely think the election was stolen from him; most would re-nominate him for the presidency if they could; he remains the likeliest GOP nominee in 2024; and a not insignificant number of conspiracy-minded Republicans still believe he is the president. Once a dominant presence on social media who sucked up all the oxygen in the room and the literal Commander-in-Chief of the United States, now he can barely get anyone to pay attention to his words.

Donald Trump remains powerful as a symbol in the Republican Party–the personification of an angry, desperate scream against cultural modernity. But Donald Trump the actual person is posting into the wind, barely making a mark even on the conservative base. Trump himself has said repeatedly that the media wouldn’t be able to live without him, but it turns out that both the media at large and even the conservative infotainment complex can ignore him with ease–even as neither can escape the shadow of what he represents and the forces he has helped to unleash. This is more than a little odd.

I think the explanation is that Donald Trump is less a leader than a professional social media troll. Leaders demand attention wherever they go because their relevance depends on their ability to generate momentum for change, and to organize people around it. Donald Trump’s day-to-day personal relevance seems to have depended almost entirely on his Twitter account. Without it, he can barely make a splash in the churn of day’s events. His shadow and the threat of his presence still looms large over the Republican Party as a whole and informs its direction and decisions, but he is personally unable to drive the news cycle like he used to.

The way Trump used social media was both destructive and innovative–paving the way for an entire generation of politicians who have discovered trolling as a more effective praxis than governing. Trump’s power to drive the narrative depended not on the power of his own statements, but from the way his statements affected elite conversations on social media. His singular talents were a gut-level understanding of how to manipulate the conversation, and an utter shamelessness in saying whatever it took to get attention and create the conversation he wanted.

This is the art of the troll: to disrupt, to insult, to throw their opponents off balance, to redirect the conversation and make it about them and their provocations.

And in an era in which conservatives feel white-hot rage against modern culture, nothing has become more important or endorphin-inducing than “owning the libs.” Trolling respectable society with outright lies as well as racist, sexist and generally sociopathic transgressions has become a badge of honor for the conservative movement, the modus operandi of their politics.

But it’s a lot harder to do that when you’ve been deplatformed. It turns out that in the social media era, if you don’t actually have a Twitter or Facebook account, it may be more difficult than anticipated to affect the conversation using an individual blog. A leader could write articles or books, give powerful speeches, organize movements and be impossible to ignore. But the power of a troll shrivels without access to the conversation they seek to disrupt.

Other Republican politicians have tried to ape Trump’s style, and are attempting to become the new leader in trolling the libs. But none have Trump’s particular talent for it. The problem for Trump is that his talents don’t extend beyond trolling. He has become, ironically, extremely easy to ignore.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.