John Dingell went from 'Dean of House' to 'Dean of Twitter'
When he left Congress after 59 years of service, former Rep. John Dingell Jr. went from "dean of the House" to the "dean of Twitter."
Dingell amassed more than 258,000 followers on Twitter with wit and, when riled, cutting attacks, especially about President Donald Trump.
His social media prowess moved Jason Sattler, a columnist for the National Memo, to opine in February 2017 that the Democrats should create an official Twitter account to respond to the president's tweets, and Dingell was best qualified to write the official rebuttals.
"The best way to stop an unstable 70-year-old with an itchy Twitter finger is the world’s greatest 90-year-old Twitter user — @JohnDingell, a former Democratic representative of Michigan," Sattler wrote.
Dingell had received accolades for his mastery of Twitter while in office. When the Atlantic magazine held an October 2014 town hall in Detroit on America's energy future, moderator Molly Ball praised his social media wizardry when introducing Dingell.
The political blog Eclectablog crowned him the "dean of Twitter" during a fundraising party in 2015 after he retired. The Dearborn Democrat obliged by reading his best tweets.
Dingell himself refused the title.
"No, I’m not the dean of Twitter," Dingell said in a December interview. "I do have fun with Twitter because with Twitter, I can laugh at myself or laugh at my neighbors or my brother or sister or me, or what is happening to say this is stupid."
Dingell also distinguished his use of Twitter from Trump's.
"This president twitters to accomplish his end and to tell his story. I don’t. I believe that twitters are like the American wits and humorists like those who criticize the presidents and spread the stories about the presidents," Dingell said.
"They talk about how Lincoln would have been a great Twitterer. Saul would have been a great Twitterer.
"Like the other great humorists did their humor, not so much by making nastiness but by simply holding things up to let them be looked and seen, to then be critical of the foolish things that were done and people would look at them and say, my God is that really so? And say, yes, that’s really what they’re doing and what they’re standing for. For Mark Twain and others, that’s what they did."
Dingell was a Twitter pioneer among politicians, said Libby Hemphill, an associate professor in the University of Michigan's School of Information and a social media expert.
"One of the first things he did was live tweet the State of the Union in 2010. Nine years ago, he was live tweeting," Hemphill said. "That may seem normal now but certainly wasn't, at least for politicians, then."
Dingell's large following "is probably an artifact of his long service and early adoption, but he's also very good at tweeting like a regular user," she said.
The former congressman's personality also likely played a role, said Erica Shifflet-Chila, a coordinator of instructional technology at Michigan State University's School of Social Work.
"Folks who are engaging and charismatic in person tend to come across the same on social media," Shifflet-Chila said.
Twitter is a new way to get in touch with public figures whether they are celebrities or politicians, and Dingell was never afraid to press send, said Erin Meyers, an associate professor of communications and journalism at Oakland University.
“He connected with young people who didn’t know who he was through his Twitter,” said Meyers, who teaches social media.
“He has a huge following for someone who isn’t Kim Kardashian, and it’s because he’s an expert.”
One of her favorites by Dingell involved the news coverage of Starbucks chairman emeritus Howard Schultz, a Democrat who told CBS' "60 Minutes" he was seriously exploring a run for president as an independent
“Someone told me that the man behind everyone's favorite cup of coffee might run for President and I just want to wish @TimHortons the very best," Dingell slyly tweeted, referring to the Canadian coffee and doughnut chain that's omnipresent in Michigan. "You have my support.”
The former congressman "knew how to play politics through Twitter," but he also made "jokes for other people’s amusement,” Meyers said.
“In a way, Twitter lets us behind the curtain, and he did it in an authentic and enjoyable way. You didn’t feel like he was grandstanding or putting on an act like others. He had a Michigan-ness about his Tweets. He kept it real."
Looking back, here are some of his most memorable tweets throughout the years:
1. When he expressed his dislike of the 45th President of the United States
2. And remained resigned to roasting Trump throughout his term
3. When he didn't need a Twitter lesson from new Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
4. When he threw shade at Neil deGrasse Tyson
5. And took a shot at Eminem, too
6. When Trump couldn't go anywhere without a running commentary
7. When he didn't pull his punches on Trump's policies
8. When he made this pointed insult
9. Even Trump's sons weren't safe from his biting wit
10. He also took shots at other politicians, too, like Attorney General (at the time) Jeff Sessions
11. And Mitt Romney wasn't safe either
12. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders got some guff
13. He did, however, manage to find common ground occasionally
14. And he kept up on what was trending
15. Ever the consummate sports fan, Dingell took out his frustrations on Twitter
16. Especially when he didn't have time to mess around
17. Most of all, Dingell wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself
18. And he never shied away from change
19. For him, age was never an impediment to humor
20. More than anything, Dingell knew how to play the game
21. He was tweeting no matter the circumstances until the end