I first noticed the phenomenon in the summer of 2016. Regular people, simple tweeters like you and me, were racking up a remarkable number of shares and likes.
In the months before the election, I saw such tweets every day. Friends and colleagues went to sleep ordinary citizens and woke up internet celebrities, because their tweets had skewered some absurd or horrific thing about presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.
It didn’t require extraordinary wit or insight to go megavi. Tweets that I think even their creators—in the case below, an admittedly very funny television writer—would admit were somewhat tossed-off were doing incredible numbers.
Once Trump got elected, the floodgates really opened. Together we boggled at the wreckage of the U.S. political system, and we liked and retweeted, and liked and retweeted. The numbers kept ticking up, up, up.
What was it about Donald Trump that inspired such virality?
We were all experiencing his presidency simultaneously, for one thing. In the years before Trump there was a thing called live-tweeting, wherein some event would be aired on television and lots of people would watch it simultaneously and all tweet their responses, creating a cacophonous but spirited conversation. The Donald Trump candidacy and presidency were, essentially, a five-year-long television show that none of us ever stopped watching. Dwarfing the audience for, say, Game of Thrones, the number of people forced to consume the catastrophic Trump administration was not that far off from the population of the world. An awful lot of us were on Twitter, desperate for people to make sense of what we were seeing.
Plus, an incredible number of funny things happened during this administration. You can’t discount that.
The Viral Trump Tweet, as a form, grew to include not just Trump himself but the constellation of grifters, operatives, and assholes who surrounded him. Members of the administration saw their viral potential grow and then diminish as their fortunes did. But they remain forever on Twitter feeds, the astonishing digits underneath them revealing just how invested we were, once, in throwing tomatoes that we knew would never reach them. Such was our frustration during these four years. Such was our impotence.
The king of the Viral Trump Tweet, David Roth, was also the king of writing about Donald Trump. His tweets, like his writing, were incisive, cruel, and exceedingly funny, and I begrudge him not a single fave.
Meanwhile, I spent the past four-plus years flailing my way through endless attempts to craft a Viral Trump Tweet. All my tweets were too arch or too hacky or too unfunny, apparently, to even sniff triple digits. I dreamed of the day that my Viral Trump Tweet would arrive: My children would gaze at me with adoration, enemies from the past would call to tell me they’d been wrong all along, and a dump truck full of $20 bills would offload its treasure in my front yard. God, it would be so gratifying—finally, all these years of hamster-wheel content creation to fill the coffers of an evil corporation would pay off for me!
I held out hope to the end. These past few weeks have seen a final torrent of Viral Trump Tweets, missives that seize on the chaos and terror and stupidity of Trump’s decline and fall and spin them into viral gold.
Goddamn, that’s a good tweet.
It never quite happened for me. And now he’s gone. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.
But … maybe I’ve still got a chance. After all, Trump isn’t going away, is he? Even today, everyone is tweeting about him. Sometimes it’s just the exact same tweet!! Even off Twitter, the now former president is going to keep on devouring news cycles over the next few months, years, however long he’s with us on this earth. My lonely quest, to become the last person on Twitter to achieve a Viral Trump Tweet, can continue.