At 12:06 this morning, President Trump took to Twitter. But this was to be no usual tweet storm. Trump unleashed a solitary cryptic message:
"Despite the constant negative press covfefe."
Yes, covfefe. What does it mean? No one knows. The tweet survived until just before 6 a.m., suggesting that Trump had gone to bed and then realized his typo.
Of course, screenshots of the tweet have now sent social media — and the media more generally — crazy. They have questions. Is the president insane? Has the president decided to start drinking? Did Trump suffer a medical emergency? It's the buzz across the front pages of every major American news outlet. But while there's a jesting tone to the coverage, it's also clear that this is a new line of attack on Trump. His adversaries sense an opportunity.
Still, from my perspective, the covfefe tweet is only part of the story here. Because at 6:09 a.m., the covfefe tweet deleted a few minutes earlier, Trump sent out another.
Who can figure out the true meaning of "covfefe" ??? Enjoy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
Trump must have known that his new tweet wouldn't put the critics to bed, but it was a clever response. By injecting humor and a wry smile into the equation, Trump reaffirmed what he knows we already know about him: that he's eccentric. He wants us to know that where he reveled in unpredictability as a businessman and a candidate, he still does so as a president. In part, this is because Trump knows how much his Twitter antics upset his opponents. Yet it's also because Trump doesn't want us to take his Twitter too seriously. Just as Abraham Lincoln vented by writing letters he never sent, Trump uses Twitter to vent in a way that is immediately casual. It's social media, stupid.And here's the catch. By sending out weird covfefe tweets and then joking about it, Trump retains that which he values most: his freedom of movement. The president revels in being unbound by convention. To Trump, his Twitter account is both a manifestation of his freedom and a servant of its durable cause. And he values this freedom of unpredictability as a key tool in getting good deals at home and abroad.
This speaks to something broader: The presidency is stressful. It changes hair grey and strangles the office holder's personal time. And each president must deal with this stress in their own way. Barack Obama exercised and took audiences from celebrities. George W. Bush exercised and chopped wood (literally). Bill Clinton exercised from his desk. But Trump doesn't exercise. (Exercise is bad for you, he reportedly believes.) And so, he needs an alternative. Thus, Twitter. Twitter helps Trump maintain relative peace of mind and coherence of thought, we should welcome that vent.
In the end, that's the real meaning of covfefe. The right to vent. The right to be eccentric. The right to be ridiculous.
Absent a crisis that demands attention, sometimes the commander in chief must become a covfefe in chief. The alternative? Mental burnout.