Late last night, Donald Trump threatened Iran with an all-caps tweet. Today, I’ll analyze its effectiveness using the Without Bullshit rubric for all written communication, ROAM.
Here’s Trump’s tweet:
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
The context: the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a speech in which he warned Donald Trump not to escalate tensions with Iran, for example by blocking Iranian oil exports, or Iran would take measures to cripple all oil shipping in the region. Rouhani said “war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.” (Iran’s rhetoric may be a response to Trump administration statements intended to appeal to moderates within Iran who are opposed to the government.)
The obvious interpretation is that Trump must hit back against any negative statement made by America’s enemies, in THE MOST FORCEFUL WAY POSSIBLE! (In Twitter, all caps and an exclamation point is about as forceful as you can get, short of emojis, which Trump doesn’t use much.)
This tweet is also lacking in the random capitalization and spelling errors that characterize the Trump twitter opus — yet another sign that we are supposed to take it seriously.
While it’s tempting to respond to shouting with more shouting and ridicule, let’s take a step back. To understand what Trump is trying to do, and whether he is succeeding, we can use the tool we use to analyze all business communication: ROAM.
ROAM reveals who this tweet is actually aimed at, and why
The only purpose of any business communication is to create a change in the reader. ROAM takes that purpose apart in four steps:
- Readers. Who is the audience?
- Objective: What is the change you want to create?
- Action: What will the audience do?
- iMpression: What will they think of you?
Who is this tweet aimed at? There’s more than one audience.
- The Iranian regime. This is the obvious and direct audience.
- Media. An audience that amplifies and argues over Trump’s every statement.
- Trump’s supporters. Always an audience for Trump tweets
What is the change that Trump wants to make in the reader? It’s different for different audiences.
- For the Iranian regime, Trump wants to emphasize that he’s not backing down and may react if they act or threaten again.
- For the media, Trump wants them to address his threat against the Iranians.
- For Trump’s supporters, he wants to remind them that he is tough on America’s enemies.
What action is Trump seeking?
- He wants the Iranians to think twice about blocking oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, or about continuing to threaten America in speeches. I doubt that this tweet will cause the Iranians to behave any differently. As a threat against the government, rather than an encouragement, it’s also unlikely to encourage anti-government moderates in Iran from taking any action.
- Trump wants the media to write about Iran and its threats, rather than writing about his flip-flops on Russia or the Mueller investigation. It has already succeeded in this objective, since the all-caps threat against Iran is now the subject of articles in all the major news outlets.
- Trump wants his supporters to continue to back him and Republicans in the upcoming midterm election. Among his supporters who were wavering due his toadying performance in Russia, this “tough stance” may win some back. For example, this stance is likely to win support from the Republican Senators who criticized his actions in Helsinki.
What will his audiences think of him?
- Before this, the Iranians thought he was a blowhard, but a potential threat on economic sanctions and militarily. Their opinions haven’t changed.
- Most reporters cover Trump as an irrational and chaotic rulebreaker who also happens to be the leader of the US executive branch — and therefore worthy of coverage and scrutiny. Their opinions haven’t changed.
- Trump supporters think Trump is tough and ready to act in a forceful way. This has reinforced their perception.
Don’t stop with the obvious analysis
Many of you reading this are doubtless thinking “It’s obvious! Trump’s public statements and tweets come directly from his gonads. There is no plan. This won’t have any effect on Iran.”
I’m sure you’re right.
But the tweets — including this all-caps yawp — are part of a pattern. If you only look at the obvious audience, the Iranian regime, and say “this pathetic statement won’t scare anybody,” you’re missing the point.
The point isn’t to scare the Iranians.
The point is to fire up the base and get them talking about how Trump is tough on America’s enemies.
The impotence of shouting on Twitter has nothing to do with the effectiveness of this tweet. It’s demagoguery.
And it’s working.