The personal computer revolutionised the home in the 1980s and ’90s. And by the mid-’90s the mainstream was getting online. But with Donald Trump now the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, there’s an interesting question that must be asked: Has Trump ever used a computer?
We already know that Donald Trump doesn’t tweet. Sure, he “tweets” in the sense that he dictates things to his personal assistants and interns. But we have little proof that he bangs out messages on Twitter by himself.
Some have called out Trump for going back on his promise to “boycott” Apple over their current fight with the FBI. News outlets point out that Trump’s tweets have pretty consistently been sent out on iPhones. But those aren’t his devices. Those are the smartphones of his personal aides, further evidenced by the fact that sometimes the tweets come from Android devices, and other times from Apple products.
So back to our original question: Has Donald Trump, the presumably human man, actually sat down at a computer and browsed the web, or checked email or (and sorry for this image) looked at pornography? Has Trump ever used a smartphone to access the web? Has the likely candidate for the GOP race to the White House ever used a computer mouse or tapped on a computer keyboard? Has he ever hammered away at a typewriter, for that matter?
The New York Times examined Trump’s tech use in a 28 July 2015 story about a deposition he once gave. And it strengthens the case that Trump has never once touched a PC.
For a candidate who says he is an authority on modern business, Mr. Trump is slow to adopt technology. In 2007, he said he had no home or office computer.
“Does your secretary send emails on your behalf?” he was asked.
His secretary generally typed letters, Mr. Trump said. “I don’t do the email thing.”
By 2013, Mr. Trump was still not sold on email. “Very rarely, but I use it,” he said under questioning.
Notice that Trump says he uses email, but very rarely, without specifying who might be actually typing out his emails. Much like his tweets, it seems safe to assume that his “use” is confined to people reading him emails and Trump dictating responses.
So what about Trump’s web browsing? It would appear that he does read news from the web. But at the very least it’s printed out for him, as we can see from this 2 February 2016 tweet showing Trump in front of printed off articles from the Huffington Post.
Donald Trump reading web articles printed off from the Huffington Post (Twitter)
At 69 years old, Trump comes from an era when business executives weren’t expected to be proficient in typing. That was what secretaries and personal assistants were for. But at 68, we certainly know Hillary Clinton uses lots of devices for email. We have the memes and personal server controversies to prove it. People tend to evolve with the times.
I have found precisely one photo of Donald Trump “using” a smartphone in a manner that might seem as if he’s using it for its web capabilities. Since Donald has also said under oath that he doesn’t text, we have to assume that this photo from October of 2015 shows him doing something web-related, provided he’s not dialling a phone number. It’s almost like a photo of Bigfoot. (And about as believable.)
There’s something about the photo that’s a little too neat. The image was for a story about Trump’s tweeting, which we’ve already established he doesn’t do directly. But presumably the photographer needed a photo of Trump “tweeting”. So whether it was Trump’s idea or the photographer’s, this one looks pretty staged. Maybe he did send out a single tweet for that shoot! But it seems unlikely.
I’ve also found another photo where Trump is “using” a smartphone by holding it up to his ear, but the caption by the Associated Press betrays the fact that he may not even be on a phone call.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
“…Trump listens to his mobile phone…”
We can assume that this bizarre wording means that the photographer never actually heard Trump having a conversation, but was merely listening to something on the other end. A sweet new song on Pandora perhaps? A conference call? Nobody knows. But whatever he was doing, there’s no evidence he pulled the phone from his ear to begin tweeting his amazing tweets or check his email.
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
I also found this photo of Trump at the Economic Club of Washington on 15 December 2014. He appears to be speaking on an invisible phone, which isn’t so much evidence of anything, but just kinda funny.
It’s good to laugh while we still can, right?
Admittedly, I’ve never seen Trump’s signature reality TV shows — The Apprentice, Celebrity Apprentice, nor Ban All Muslims Apprentice. But my web searches have turned up nothing even close to The Donald™ using a computer on that show, let alone anywhere else.
From an article by Mark Leibovich at the New York Times, it appears that Trump has been seen tweeting from his own phone at least once:
After a few minutes, I saw Trump staring down into a phone glowing up into his shiny face. I checked my phone, too. ”Speech in Dallas went really well,” it said in my Twitter feed, courtesy of @realDonaldTrump, who was tweeting next to me in the dark.
So it would appear that at the very least Trump knows how to use Twitter on his phone, assuming that Trump actually sent the tweet and it wasn’t typed out by someone else and/or pre-scheduled. Leibovich assumes that it was Trump tweeting, but without looking over his shoulder, we don’t know that he wasn’t playing that Kate Upton game you’re always seeing ads for.
Most importantly, we still haven’t answered the question: Have Trump’s short, vulgarian fingers known the loving touch of a computer mouse or keyboard?
A tipster has sent me this 2011 video of Trump railing against Occupy Wall Street. He appears to have a MacBook sitting behind him on his desk. Granted, he’s not using it and this video probably wouldn’t stand up in court as evidence that he’s actually used a computer in his life, but it’s something.
Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski hasalso pointed out to me that when Trump did the Howard Stern show back in 2005 Trump implied that he doesn’t really like email. The reason? All his friends just send emails about all the married women they’re having sex with.
“What really fascinates me is email. I have friends — first of all — half of my friends are under indictment right now because they sent emails to each other about how they’re screwing people,” said Trump. “Email is unbelievable. They will talk on the phone, they can’t even say hello, they don’t want to say hello or goodbye, and yet they will write you a message that they’re having sex with 15 different married women. It’s unbelievable. Email is unbelievable.”
Believable, actually. And yet, still not evidence that Trump has ever physically touched a computer. Much like his Huffington Post print-outs, it’s probably a safe bet that Trump’s aides give him emails in deadtree form.
If Trump has truly never used a computer, that would be a remarkable change of trajectory in American politics. Since the transition from Bill Clinton in the early 1990s to George W. Bush in the 2000s to Barack Obama, US presidents have changed with the technological times. None have been technological wizards, but they have appeared competent with the mainstream computing tech of their day.
Even the first President Bush, the man who got teased for not knowing how a checkout scanner worked back in the early 1990s, has been spotted with a computer mouse in his hand now and again.
George and Barbara Bush in 1999 (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
There is no technological test for the presidency in the United States. A hypothetical President Trump would not be required to use a computer nor a smartphone. But it’s 2016. The future president of the United States will confront myriad issues involving the average American’s use of technology. And if you’ve never touched a computer in your life, it seems hard to imagine how Trump might relate to things as trivial as “information overload” or as important as mass government surveillance.
We have documentary evidence of Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio all using tablets, smartphones and PCs. Somehow Trump has mastered the high-tech demands of running a 21st century presidential campaign without ever using those technologies first-hand. He’s on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — all set up for him and controlled by his lackeys. Frankly, I’m not sure whether to be impressed or horrified.
I guess, of all the things to be horrified over regarding the future US president, his technological prowess might be the least of our worries.
Top image: Donald Trump at his computer-less desk in 2010 (AP Photo/Richard Drew)