Understanding Trump's Twitter Response To Rising Gas Prices

There is something that people refuse to understand about the way President Trump operates.

After all, the man was a reality television host and real estate mogul for many years. He’s picked up some tricks of the trade. Or to better phrase it: these are the tricks with which he operates.

Trump brought to the presidency the idea of Twitter diplomacy. This is essentially the art of incorporating the hype-phenomenon of social media to the world of geopolitics. Whether or not you think this tactic is presidential (I certainly don’t think so) it’s important to understand it operates with different rules than the standard White House press release.

Trump’s tweets go for the shock effect as opposed to a calculated nuanced message. What this means is that not every detail - and often some of the bigger points as well - is meant to be taken as if they are reflecting an imminent policy directive of the president.

Again, whether or not one agrees with this method, it has certainly had its effects on the global stage, from the Korean Peninsula to European trade talks.

Perhaps one of the best examples to date occurred recently when Trump took to social media to express his feelings about rising gas prices.  

Reports emerged from unidentified White House sources that the president was considering selling off some of the federal government’s private stash of oil, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Reportedly, the administration is actively considering tapping into the nation’s emergency supply of crude oil as political pressure grows to rein in rising gasoline prices. Options under review range from a 5-million-barrel test sale to the release of a much larger volume - somewhere around 30 million barrels. This would be a unilateral move by the U.S. But an even larger release is possible if it were to be coordinated with other nations.

Concerns about oil prices are not baseless. The national average gasoline price rose to $2.89 per gallon by July 13, up 63 cents or 28 percent from that date a year ago. The U.S. gasoline price average is expected remain high through early September, capping off anywhere from $2.85 per gallon and $3.05 per gallon by Labor Day.

At nearly the same time rumors of opening the SPR emerged, Trump took to Twitter. The president tweeted bluntly that “Oil prices are too high” and that “OPEC is at it again. Not good! [...] The OPEC Monopoly must remember that gas prices are up & they are doing little to help. If anything, they are driving prices higher as the United States defends many of their members for very little $’s. This must be a two way street.” After implying threat of U.S. action in response to the price situation, Trump ended his social media salvo with the demand: “REDUCE PRICING NOW!”

Many critical voices of the SPR option began to emerge in the media. Why would Trump open the strategic reserve when there was no real crisis at hand, just to nominally lower prices?

In truth, Trump’s tweet was almost certainly not eluding to an actual policy decision he was weighing. Rather, the president’s message was to place squarely on the table the tools the U.S. government has to deal with its challenges. This move was not without its effects. Consider this interesting fact: global oil value began a sharp decline the very day Trump “demanded” OPEC lower prices and news of a possible SPR tap was “leaked.”

Another important effect was on the foreign policy scene. Iranian leaders - who are now shaking in their boots from the imminent return of U.S. sanctions - were also perturbed from the news out of the White House. On July 16, a senior Iranian oil official urged President Trump not to use the SPR to push prices lower, and instead drop sanctions on Iran’s crude exports. “My advice to you, Mr. President, is to avoid touching the SPR,” said Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, Iran’s representative to OPEC. Ardebili suggested instead that Trump should “cool down and give up sanctioning Iranian oil.”

So you see, the information flow has its effects. By highlighting America’s assets, it put the issue in focus. Yes, there’s a rise in oil prices, yes we’re are pushing forward sanctions on Iran that have the potential to further deplete oil supplies, but listen, we have ways of dealing with these things.

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