Via Russell Steinberg
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Meet the man the internet blames for Donald Trump becoming president

In 2013, Russell Steinberg joked to Trump that he should run for president. Man, does he regret that now. 

Russell Steinberg was bored at work when he arguably started it all.

“I remember it pretty clearly,” he says of 7 February 2013, the day he sent the tweet that would change his life. “I followed Donald Trump at the time and he was going on just a rant about President Obama and it was annoying me. I wanted to tweet something at him that would illicit a response – that was my goal, just purely for my own entertainment – I knew even at the time how thin-skinned he was.”

Looking for a reaction from a man who was, at the time, simply a TV personality, Steinberg wrote: “If you hate America so much, you should run for President and fix things.” It didn’t take long for The Apprentice host to reply. “Be careful!” he wrote back, exclamation mark and all.

Steinberg thought this was hilarious, promptly showed all of his friends the exchange and then, within a week, forgot all about it. By 8 November 2016, however, everything changed.

“I was getting a lot of death threats, a lot of anti-Semitic comments because of my last name,” he says. “The hate in my mentions erupted.”

***

How did a 26-year-old community manager from New York’s tweet inspire so much vitriol?

Steinberg’s tweet was initially brought to popular attention in March 2016, when the digital news company Now This found and retweeted his message. The company then made a video with Steinberg, and he describes the reaction to his tweet – and the video – as “very good natured”.

“I just thought it was funny, something that would be kind of entertaining through the summer until [Trump] fizzled out,” he says. “Of course that didn't happen.”

By October, Steinberg had hit the headlines. “Meet The Man Who May Have Created The Trump Monster” said MSN, “The man responsible for Donald Trump running for president” said Indy100, “People are blaming this man for Donald Trump’s presidency bid,” said Metro. Steinberg says meme aggregators began posting screenshots of his tweet across the internet, particularly Instagram, meaning a younger audience discovered his profile.

“There’s actually one exchange in particular that I do remember,” says Steinberg. He had reported a death threat on Twitter and forgot about it. The account belonged to a girl who was in high school. "Her friend tweeted at me and said: ‘Hey, you know you’ve got my friend’s account suspended, f*ck you’ and all of this," Steinberg recalled. He replied that the girl should not have tweeted death threats. She argued that it was just a joke, and he countered that it didn’t feel like a joke when hundreds of people were saying the same thing.

“And she said: ‘Well you know if everyone’s tweeting death threats at you, then maybe you deserve it.’”

***

It is clear that the majority of people tweeting Steinberg messages such as “It’s all your fault” are being flippant, and don’t seriously believe that one tweet caused Trump to run for President. Nonetheless, Steinberg has encountered people who sincerely blame him, which makes it troubling when multiple people send him messages such as “kys” (kill yourself).

“All you need is for one person to actually be serious about if for there to be an actual problem,” he says, explaining that by mid-October he was getting a death threat every hour. “I get it, I get what they’re saying that it's just a joke – but when you’re getting it hundreds and hundreds of times it's hard for it to not have an impact on you.

“They don’t know me; they don’t know what my mental state is, for all they know I’m completely over the edge. They don’t know if that could actually cause me to do something, you have to actually think about that before you tweet at somebody who you’ve never met before.”

Thankfully, Steinberg says the tweets didn’t have too much of an impact on his mental state. He says it is “lucky” that at the same time his Twitter started erupting, he was off sick with pneumonia. “I was sitting on my couch, just sick as hell and not even concerned with Twitter, just wanting to not exist anymore… Looking back on it thank God I was sick and not at work with Twitter open all day because I probably would’ve just gone crazy.”

***

“That was a really rough day, not gonna lie.”

Steinberg is referring to 8 November, the day Trump confounded pollsters and won the United States Presidential Election. At the beginning of the day he felt hopeful that his tweet would be forgotten after Hillary Clinton won. Yet as the night went on and it became clear Trump was in the lead, the hateful tweets came pouring in.

“I had Tweetdeck [a dashboard for managing Twitter accounts] open and I was getting so many notifications that Tweetdeck just wouldn’t function for me,” he says. It was then, at last, that Steinberg decided to delete his tweet. “I was inundated with notifications and I wanted to cut down on it at least a little bit.”

It didn’t work, as screenshots of Trump and Steinberg’s exchange are still all over the internet. Nowadays, Steinberg says he gets a handful of comments about the tweet every day. A few hours after we speak, he contacts me again to show me a tweet he has just received. “You're the reason Trump is President. You're a monster,” it reads.

Steinberg now freely mutes and blocks people, and is enthusiastic when I suggest using Twitter's brand new word-blocking tool to filter out the words “It’s all your fault” – the tweet he gets the most.  

***

Does Steinberg regret ever sending the tweet? “I’d be lying if I didn’t say to you I didn’t at least like the attention for a little bit and I think anybody would whether they would admit it or not,” he says.

“On the other hand, God my life would’ve been a lot easier if it never happened.”

The irony of the whole affair is that Steinberg was a Clinton supporter during the election, and donated and volunteered for her campaign. Because of this, he feels the hatred directed towards him is especially misplaced. I ask what he would say to people who are tempted to send him a threatening or hurtful message.

“I would say: take whatever anger, frustration you have with me and channel it into something that will actually make a difference in your community and in your local politics,” he says. "That’s what I’d say you should channel your energy into, rather than just tweeting at me.” 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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