Donald Trump gave a series of surprisingly inoffensive answers to fans in his Reddit "ask me anything" session tonight. After a press conference filled with off-the-cuff and sometimes bizarre comments, his visit to Reddit stronghold r/The_Donald was marked by conspicuously anodyne responses — which, to be honest, was probably the best outcome anyone could have hoped for.
Reddit’s official, high-profile AMAs — like the 2012 one with Barack Obama — are usually held on the subreddit r/IAmA. Trump’s, however, was in r/The_Donald, a dedicated Trump forum. While the subreddit’s rules ban racism and anti-semitism, members (and moderators) of r/The_Donald have a history of it; every public forum will have bad posts, but this is a case where there’s been an outright flamewar over how much influence far-right extremists should have. Tonight, the subreddit’s members reminded each other to be on their best behavior. "We can’t give the dishonest media any type of ammunition to use against Trump," wrote one commenter. The thread was heavily moderated, and questions from new or rarely active accounts were automatically filtered out, although "public figures who support Trump" could be exempted. A moderator wrote afterward that they’d banned 2,200 accounts during the AMA.
This meant that any confrontational questions, like why Trump isn’t sharing his tax returns, were out. Politicians tend not to go in for hardball sessions on Reddit anyway — Obama’s AMA was thoughtful but non-specific. And there were several confusing deletions, including one question on net neutrality from Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who is actually a moderator of the subreddit.
Even given this context, though, Trump usually stuck to the safest of safe questions, giving one- and two-sentence answers to inquiries about his support for NASA and his concerns about media bias. (These basically boiled down to "NASA is good" and "media bias is bad.") When asked about his plan "for reducing or removing the influence of money on politics," he went for the crowd-pleasing "Keeping Crooked Hillary Clinton out of the White House!" Sometimes, though, that was noteworthy in itself. His only answer about immigration referred people to the plan for reforming H-1B visas for skilled workers — yes, he’s been contradictory about these in the past, but it’s a far cry from his worst comments about immigrants. The longest of his 12 posts in the thread were reserved for appealing to third-party or former Bernie Sanders voters, who he said were "welcome with open arms."
Maybe Trump got all the controversy out of his system earlier today while winking and nodding at Russian state-sponsored hackers. Maybe the format has a mediating effect on him, whether because it takes time and thought to type out answers or because his staff can vet them before he posts — although that doesn't exactly hold true for his Twitter account. Either way, it’s probably good for r/The_Donald, which gets a respectable, highly curated post for its archives. It’s certainly not bad for Trump, who’s getting more publicity during the Democratic National Convention no matter what he says. And to be perfectly honest, it’s good for anyone who didn’t want to find themselves staring at a screen in disbelief for another few hours. We just wish he’d answered the question about building a moon base.