After a weekend in which Trump called off a half-baked plan to Parent Trap the Taliban and the Afghan government at Camp David just before the anniversary of 9/11, and mere days after Sharpiegate finally fizzed out like a downgraded hurricane, Trump ushered us into a fresh week of hell by starting a flame war with Chrissy Teigen.
….musician @johnlegend, and his filthy mouthed wife, are talking now about how great it is – but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed. “Anchor”@LesterHoltNBC doesn’t even bring up the subject of President Trump or the Republicans when talking about….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2019
The president was apparently spending his Sunday night taking in an MSNBC Justice for All town hall about criminal justice reform when he sensed insufficient gratitude for his role in signing the bipartisan First Step Act into law last winter. Such insolence! There was only one solution: send out a string of tweets calling out four prominent people of color—Van Jones, Lester Holt, John Legend, and Chrissy Teigen—for not professing total fealty to dear leader. While the tweets were all insulting, they were especially malicious toward Teigen, who doesn’t get a name, but rather the designation of Legend’s “filthy-mouthed wife.” Yes, the president responsible for my mom saying the words “pussy” and “shithole” to me for the first time ever has a problem with colorful language in his dainty ears. Anything but filthy language!
Trump’s unprovoked attack on Chrissy Teigen raises a thorny question, though: Does he know about Teigen Twitter Hive—and does he care?
Sometimes, the president is selective about who he starts a fight with, and at other times he appears to be functioning completely on autopilot. With reporters, it’s anyone who rubs him the wrong way in the slightest or proves disloyal. (Lately, he has even begun to include certain Fox News pundits in the latter category.) With politicians, it’s roughly the same. However, it sure seems as though he’s more likely to go after a reporter or politician more viciously when it’s a person of color. Weird how that happens!
With celebrities, there appears to be more than instinct involved. While Trump is excited for the chance to have any well-known celebrities on his side—the whole Kanye thing is thrilling for him—he’s more deliberative about which celebrities to counterpunch. The key factor seems to be how his base feels about these people. Trump fans may not have a problem with suddenly having to despise the likes of Meryl Streep and Debra Messing. They may not love having to consider Robert De Niro an enemy, but they’re certainly willing to go down that road. Curiously, though, Eminem went crazy viral with a “freestyle” about the president, telling his Trump-supporting fans “fuck you” if they stuck with Trump, and somehow the president didn’t respond at all. There’s no way the information escaped him. These things never do. But something in his cultural Spidey sense told him to let that one go, that engaging critically with Eminem was a nonstarter.
This same thought either did not occur to him when he started a flame war with Chrissy Teigen—or he underestimated her as a cultural opponent.
Donald Trump is probably not aware of the particular celebrity perch Teigen occupies. She is a multiplatform force: model turned cookbook author turned TV host. It also seems like she has a separate career that consists entirely of being a beloved Twitter figure. Teigen long ago graduated from “Can you believe this supermodel is actually kind of funny?” to simply being known as a clever, charming, inexplicably relatable personality, whose tweets often end up inspiring Mashable articles. She is easily the most Twitter-savvy opponent Trump has ever taken on, narrowly edging out Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is formidable in her own right but also bound by certain standards we expect from politicians, from which Teigen is free.
It is likely that Trump was unaware of Teigen’s status as a Twitter godhead, because he may be unaware of anyone else’s reach on the platform beyond his own, which he considers supreme. So, was it an unwise oversight for the president to go after someone so witty and beloved in his casually misogynist yet also dorky fashion, or was it a cold calculation?
The downside for him is that Chrissy Teigen obviously has comebacks for days, and she’s popular enough that her 11.5 million followers will be hashtagging and retweeting them for even longer. Within hours of his attack on her, #PresidentPussyAssBitch became a Twitter sensation, if not a trending topic, because Twitter also dislikes a filthy mouth. (#FilthyMouthedWife is currently trending, though.)
lol what a pussy ass bitch. tagged everyone but me. an honor, mister president.
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) September 9, 2019
Luna, remember the night before your first day of school? When mommy was making your sign and the pussy ass bitch president had his 9th meltdown of the day pic.twitter.com/ZFZHJYrDPG
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) September 9, 2019
Although the Teigen-inspired mockery has already produced some hilarious memes, it is by no means a victory. No matter who any individual thinks wins in a Trump versus Teigen Twitter war, we all lose.
Those with a membership card in the Cult of Donald are preprogrammed to side with their guy in a culture war. They may have passively watched Teigen on Bring the Funny before, but there’s no way their attachment to her is strong enough to overcome their attachment to Trump, which they have likely sacrificed so much social currency to maintain. It doesn’t matter that to an objective observer—if there could be such a thing these days—it may seem like a ridiculous use of presidential oxygen for Trump to attack Chrissy Teigen. That doesn’t matter to the people on his side. Whatever amazing future comebacks she may have, to the Cult of Donald it is just the hate-filled rantings of the filthy-mouthed wife who dared disrespect Mr. Trump. (Which she apparently did not?)
There is no other side to the triumph of watching a person with as much power as Trump get dunked on by large swaths of Twitter. Every single time Mitch McConnell tweets, he gets ratio’d to hell, and yet he’s still out there, ruining lives every day, utterly undeterred. It would probably be more meaningful if Trump’s provocation just went ignored, but I mean, come on. It’s not in Chrissy Teigen’s DNA to ignore being called out by the president. She can’t win here, though. Because Trump empirically cannot lose in a flame war with a liberal celebrity. Trump may not have a Bret Stephens-style “I’m-not-owned!” meltdown over the blowback to his little hissy fit, but he doesn’t need to in order to win. All he needs to do is refuse to acknowledge the blowback in any way except the way that helps him: by letting it confirm that the Trump Haters are at it again.
He also gets something else out of this: a Monday morning where the internet is abuzz with talk about Chrissy Teigen instead of the Taliban or Sharpies or the Bahaman hurricane survivors kicked off a ferry to Ft. Lauderdale over visa concerns or the mind-boggling blatant corruption that has been right in front of us since day one and continues to be reported on but never challenged in any significant way.
There are no winners here, there’s only a microscopic deepening of the monumental divide in our country, and another Monday where many of us don’t know what to be most angry about first. We’re all stars now in the Trump show. Welcome to this week’s episode.