Donald Trump is famous for his prolific use of Twitter, a place where he can openly launch criticisms against anything, and recently the world trade system has been in his line of sight.

Any global citizen who is concerned about the future of free trade can learn anything there is to know about Trump’s view on it by reading his tweets, which are pumped out daily straight from the man who once declared “trade wars are good, and easy to win”.

Trump’s view on trade has long been presented on Twitter

Long-time followers of Trump’s Twitter feed would not be surprised by his outrageous stance on free trade, as this is one of the few things he has consistently opposed since 2011, which seems strange since you can always find an old tweet from Trump contradicting his current views on anything. According to Twitter, Trump’s view on trade is:

  • Remarkably consistent: Trump has been sending out negative tweets about China’s trading surplus since 2011, long before he run for president. Looking at his record of China-bashing, one would not be surprised if a full-blown trade war with China happens.
  • Populist: Trump’s tweets promise protectionist policies like high tariffs to bring back U.S. jobs. In order to make people more angry and suspicious of foreign countries, Trump has been working tirelessly to promote the idea that every bad thing that happens in America is due to foreigners. Lost your job? A foreigner stole it. Crime? Must be Mexicans.

Trump tweet

  • Impulsive: Despite an army of advisors by his side, Trump only cares about pleasing his fan-base by promising tariffs to save jobs. The Trump administration has been accusing foreign countries of swindling America, with targets ranging from allies like the EU and Japan to trading powerhouse like China. Criticisms from Trump come in erratic forms; in June he criticised Canada’s trading policies on Twitter after tweeting “FAIR TRADE!” in all caps and nothing else. Strange impulsive messages like this can damage the image of the U.S. President as a reliable world leader for years to come.

The year is 2018, and one can make an assessment on the future of world trade by browsing the Twitter feed of the U.S. president. Mr. Trump wants to upend the world trading system, firing volley after volley of attacks on trading partners, and lashes out when the eventual retaliations come. Despite (or because of) this, Trump’s supporters, a lot of whom are blue-collar workers, seem to be supportive of every tweet he sends out, not considering whether they might be the ones who are going to suffer the most from Trump’s erratic trade policies. In a recent response to EU trade retaliations, Harley-Davidson announced that it’ll move production out of America; as expected, a series of angry tweets from Trump were sent shortly after.

Does Twitter affect Trump?

So far we have seen Trump’s intimate interaction with Twitter, but that relationship yields another question: Do all the approvals that Trump receives from Twitter everyday encourage his behaviours even more? If the U.S. president is as human as everyone else, he can be trapped in his own bubble that constantly echos his viewpoints (e.g. the U.S. is being hurt by trading). Mr. Trump’s fondness for conservative talk shows is well documented on Twitter: He often retweets from @foxandfriends and also follows famous right-wing mouthpieces like @seanhannity and @AnnCoulter. Mr. Trump seems to be very immersed in browsing right-wing online media; he once retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a far-right group.

Trump’s supporters’ relentless support for their hero can only fuel Mr. Trump’s addiction to Twitter. Everytime the President turns on his phone, he has millions of fans eagerly waiting to praise his every word. Trump’s tweets are showered with thousands of likes in a matter of minutes, though not all accounts interacting with his tweets are human users: lots of them are bots that can be bought, which means any anti-globalists can easily promote their agenda via the leader of the free world.

With more than 53 million followers on Twitter (that’s about 1 in 6 Twitter users), Mr. Trump can certainly influence the Twitter community just like it can influence him. Every single one of his tweets reaches millions worldwide, and most importantly, they reach the U.S. electorate. His tweets promote protectionism, and this can influence foreign electorates, nudging them to embrace mercantilism in their own countries. We are seeing a sudden stop of the promotion of free trade coming from the Office of the American President with the arrival of Mr. Trump. Twitter is shaping the world’s opinion on very important matters such as world trade, and more dangerously, it can even shape the opinion of the most powerful man in the world.

What can we do?

It can be hard to be a liberal when divisive messages come daily from the American President. However, if utilised properly, Twitter can be an excellent tool for liberals around the world to amplify their voices and defend their cause against political extremists of the left and right. Mr. Trump proved that social media has enormous power to influence public opinion.

As the dismantling of free trade is partly due to the negatives of free trade spreading much faster than its positives’, we should keep pressure on tech giants to help us fix liberal democracy by combating fake news and targeted election advertising. The answer to our problems is not to shut down anti-globalists, but to have an open and honest discussion with them. Although Twitter looks like a very unlikely place to have a civilised conversation, it has the potential to become one.

The future of politics lies in citizens’ conscious usage of social media. Twitter is here to stay, and future populists will surely use it, so liberals need to stay vigilant.

Author: Duc Nguyen

Duc is a final year Economics student at University of Warwick. He’s from Vietnam.