Due to Wednesday's shameful, world-watched putsch at the Capitol, Twitter and Facebook locked the outgoing president's powerful accounts, stripping him of some of his most important weaponry and leading to a nearly unprecedented day-long stretch of silence. For the first time in his tweet-driven presidency, Trump wasn't able to employ his preferred method of communication to stoke or incite supporters. He wasn't able to launch at leaders of his party his usual mob-boss loyalty tests. And he wasn't able to distract and divert and defend himself in the telltale ways to which Americans have grown so accustomed.
"It's like he disappeared off the face of the earth," Tony Schwartz, the co-author of The Art of the Deal, told me, "not being on Twitter."
Twitter, of course, always has been one of Trump's most effective tools. He has used it not only as a tether to what his base is thinking and wanting but also as a whip to rev attention, to control conversation, to threaten members of Congress or candidates or governors or anybody else he deems problematic or insufficiently subservient. Now, though, he's on a kind of partial probation—and in jeopardy of losing more permanently these megaphones—after Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday booted him from Facebook and Instagram until at least Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20 as Trump's successor.
And looking forward, in these on-tenterhooks 12 days and beyond, we glimpse one of the central questions of what almost assuredly will be an unprecedented post-presidency: Without access to these traditional social media channels—his almost 89 million Twitter followers, his going on 33 million Facebook fans, his Instagram, his YouTube and his Twitch—can Trump continue to pack the same level of cultural and political sway?
Without Twitter, in other words, what is Trump?
"Trump's dependence on Twitter," Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, told me, "supersedes even his basic need of oxygen to breathe."
"The thing that was most powerful about Trump's Twitter platform was it enabled him to operate as the executive producer of the global news cycle. It really was that powerful. With one click, he could send tremors through every newsroom in the world, every capital and just reframe the focus squarely back on him in an instant," said Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Mitt Romney. "That power is gone," he said.