The 'Trump app' will be the insurrection on steroids

·6 min read
Donald Trump.
Donald Trump. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

It seems fitting that former President Donald Trump is launching a new social media venture with a name that amounts to a troll of his political opponents.

"TRUTH Social" — get it? The man who emits more lies per minute than anyone in American public life has chosen "truth" for the name of his alternative to Twitter and Facebook, and he's put the word in all-caps (at least in his press release announcing the venture) for a little extra zing.

If this platform actually materializes — a big "if," given Trump's history as a con man full of bluster about business propositions that ultimately come to nothing — it will be a very big deal. First of all, because it would give Trump a way to circumvent the cordon sanitaire Twitter and Facebook have erected around him since the Jan. 6 insurrection. Once again, the former president would have a highly effective way to communicate directly to his supporters and receive obsessive coverage from mainstream media outlets on a daily or hourly basis.

But even more significantly, the Trump app would bring us one step closer to the scariest 2024 scenario anyone has proposed. That's a series of events in which a narrow Trump loss that year is followed not just by a re-enactment of the Capitol riot, but by copycat protests around Washington, D.C., and in state capitals around the country as votes are being counted and results certified, with Trump himself (or trusted and more reliable members of his entourage) directing the movements of those protesters in real time through the app everyone involved will have on their smart phones.

That would represent a big new step in the direction of full-on political disaster.

The media venture itself appears to be real, backed by investment money that will allow Trump to form a company called the Trump Media and Technology Group, with the social media platform (modeled on Twitter) one of its arms. The money to found the company is supposedly coming from a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Digital World Acquisitions.

As The New York Times notes, SPACs "are an increasingly popular type of investment vehicle that sells shares to the public with the intention of using the proceeds to buy private businesses." Digital World was incorporated shortly after Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Its chief executive, Patrick Orlando, is a former derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank, the only mainstream financial institution willing to do business with Trump in recent years. Digital World held an initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange in September, raising about $283 million, with several major hedge funds buying shares. That's where the money is coming from for the launch of Trump's venture.

The plan, at the moment, begins with a pre-sale of the app through Apple's App Store. (It is already available there.) The app will be open to invitees in November, with the full social media platform launching and opening to the public next year. All of this could easily come to nothing, or merely sputter and fail, as so many Trump ventures have done down through the decades. The man has proven himself a master of precisely one aspect of business, which is branding, often with little substance behind the hype. That could certainly turn out to be the case here.

We'd better hope so — because an app that Trump can use to communicate directly with his most impassioned supporters through their smart phones is one crucial element of the nightmarish vision sketched by Curtis Yarvin in his two-hour podcast conversation with former Trump National Security Council official Michael Anton last May. I wrote a column about that conversation back in July, and it's worth reminding ourselves of precisely what Yarvin, a software developer and former alt-right blogger, advocates.

Yarvin calls himself a monarchist, but it's more accurate to say he favors dictatorship — the seizing of emergency powers by a strongman who, backed by populist (though perhaps not majority or plurality) support, uses those powers to smash the resistance of the bureaucratic-administrative state and its ostensible allies in civil society, including the mainstream media, the universities, and "woke capital."

It's a fantasy of Caesarism, in which the right wins a total victory over its opponents. But that doesn't mean it's a fantasy completely disconnected from reality. Yarvin — who has since appeared as a guest for over an hour on Tucker Carlson Today, the online daytime interview program run by the prime time Fox News host — has many concrete suggestions for how his would-be Caesar should go about turning himself into a tyrant. One of them involves the use of social media to mobilize supporters around the country.

Though on the podcast Yarvin begins by speaking of a nameless Caesar, he soon lapses into describing this social media interface as a "Trump app." As I put it in July, quoting Yarvin's words on the podcast, Trump would used this app

to communicate directly with his 80 million supporters on their smart phones, using notifications to tell them that "this agency isn't following my instructions," which will prompt them to rally at the proper building, with the crowd "steered around by a joystick by Trump himself," forming a "human barricade around every federal building, supporting Trump's lawful authority." Where maybe 20,000 people stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, millions responding to the Trump app would be much more effective — a modern-day version of the paramilitary groups that ensured Lincoln's safety during the hard-fought, dangerous 1860 campaign for president that preceded the Civil War (and the president's subsequent suspension of habeas corpus and shuttering of hundreds of newspapers). [The Week]

This scenario seems to presume Trump is already ensconced in the Oval Office and attempting to maintain control after a loss, as he was last January. But of course, if he runs in 2024, he will be on the outside looking in, with Joe Biden or Kamala Harris seeking to defend a win from the White House. In that scenario, a Trump app would come in especially handy, as Republican-controlled secretaries of state and state legislatures prepare to decide on whether to certify vote totals or authorize recounts, on what rules will govern such recounts, and on whether and how to allocate electors. Protests arose spontaneously in many places in the post-election period last time. A Trump-controlled social media app, with no external private or public restrictions or oversight, could help the losing candidate foment and direct such protests three years from now, with an eye to encouraging more extreme acts in defiance of long-established democratic norms and laws.

This doesn't mean these efforts would be successful at making Trump the winner after a loss. What they would do is help him sow electoral chaos. In this respect, it's especially apt that Yarvin refers to the paramilitary units that played a role in the 1860 election, since they foretold, not the advent of tyranny in America, but the outbreak of the Civil War. Something similar — a postmodern, high-tech blending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland with elements of the 17th-century English Civil War and Spanish Civil War of the 1930s — is the real tail risk confronting the United States today.

A successful launch Trump's TRUTH Social app could bring us a little bit closer to making it a reality.

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