The Democratic Process is in its final season. Thursday night’s line-up attempted a novel format in which the presidential candidates duked it out separately in parallel prime-time slots. In the end it all comes down to ratings. The ballots may be corrupt, moistening in ditch water or marked up by the deceased, but YouTube hits don’t lie. Nielsen is the only Electoral that matters.
Friday morning Newsweek reported that the Democratic candidate had more than just pipped the current Commander-in-Chief at the post. Biden racked up 507,445 YouTube viewers at the end of his two-hours plus on ABC, whereas Trump had a mere 153,660 over on NBC. The viral president had not gone viral. Even if neither fighter had broken through to seven digits, a feat easily attained by second-rate TikTok influencers, the Scranton Scrapper had hit Donnybrook Don where it hurt most: in his numbers.
ABC dubbed their show “The Vice-President and the People.” The synthesized theme music had a disco pop to it, dated but energetic, hoping to convince the undecided that even though Biden remained seated for his Townhall he still had a spring in his septuagenarian step. The broadcast emanated from Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center and the commercial breaks (only in America!) were framed by an assuring disembodied male voice reading passages from the sanctified Constitution. For these recitations the soundtrack followed the reverent contours of Aaron Copland’s Americana, evoking in just a few seconds the open-range possibility of this great land, its high-minded morality, super-power altruism, and cheap gas. Social distanced on stage were the comforting democratic duo of Joe Biden and George Stephanopoulos, one-time communications director in the Clinton White House. This was clearly a re-run except that the actors were older. Enhanced reality technology had digitally adjusted the actors to account for the advancing years—the gray hair, the sagging jowls, the ultra-white teeth. My fellow Americans, we are now in round-the-clock syndication!
For two hours I waited (at least when I was clicking in—or better, swiping over—from NBC’s YouTube stream) for Biden to steal Trump’s best line: “Trump—you’re fired!” It never came.
Returning to the network that elevated him from many-times bankrupt Business Boy to franchise Entertainer, Trump had no doubts—he never does—that his snug hour on NBC would put him over the top, over-inflating his unburstable ego and limp poll numbers. Before he left The Apprentice in the vice-grip hands of fellow celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger to take up his current role in his yet-to-be-cancelled presidential reality show, Trump’s night was Thursday. The network would be good to him once again.
NBC dutifully branded the episode TRUMP TOWHHALL—the font almost as outsized as the those of the fireworks that ejaculated his name from the Washington Monument across the sheet of heaven at the climax of the Republican National Convention back in August. NBC spread their title’s alliteration across a massive tv marquee with blue background. The half of a white star to the left of the letters of Trump’s name was a motif drawn from the American flag whose stripes peeked out from the right side of the P. Or was the partial stellar eclipse a clever visual pun that previewed the prying loose of Trump’s star from the sidewalk of fame and power?
Perched above the letter T was the NBC peacock, a fitting symbol for the man whose name extended to the bird’s left. If anyone could strut and screech from a lagoon-side bar stool at an art museum (Trump in an art museum?) in the Sunshine State, showing his true colors even at night, it was this Presidential Preener.
But soon enough the NBC peacock would shit on the gamekeeper.
Before that happened, NBC’s ersatz-John Williams lead-in music called the viewers to attention as the TRUMP TOWNHALL banner alternated rhythmically with another screen that proclaimed DECISION 2020: martial snare drums called patriotic militiamen to arms; soaring strings sang of a Destiny that put the Man back in Manifest, just as Trump had put the Cock back in Peacock; throttling syncopations captured the divergent voices of democracy and threw them in a maximum security federal penitentiary; anti-Antifa forces fell into lockstep to the clarion calls of the top brass. The Generals, at least for this Thursday night, were on Trump’s side.
But was that a lone Tinkerbell “ding” that cut through the inexorable tank track advance of the military-musical machine? Some e-arranger has a rebellious sense of humor, launching this cruise-missile quip from his or her high-altitude dungeon in Rockefeller Center—or a more likely a black site half a world away. Expect the unassuming orchestral triangle to be immediately classified as a terrorist weapon.
Faeries be damned, the voting public was still stoked with biggie-sized portions of musical machismo. All were set for a rollicking good time.
The Townhall brass theme ascended towards presidential apotheosis. Somewhere behind the marquee, the curated questioners nervously sucked on their lozenges, readying themselves for their scene with the star-in-chief, who was congratulating himself for having put the Trump back into Trumpet. (Or do I mean the Trumpettes?—a can’t-miss Radio City Music Hall attraction featuring Ivanka and Tiffany when family money is tight in the years to come.) But right at its crux, the soundtrack veered into frightening silence. TRUMP TOWNHALL glowered down on the mute chaos.
Had the Proud Boys stormed Rockefeller Center guns blazing? Had vacationing Michigan Militia frogmen emerged from Florida’s stagnant waters to drain the Perez Art Museum swamp and their fully-loaded magazines? Had the plug been pulled not just on bad intro music but Fake News itself?
After an epic twenty seconds of radio silence, the frantic voice of Townhall host Savannah Guthrie was heard to say “It’s nothing but noise …” No truer words had been uttered in this endless campaign season, still in search of finale.
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks. He can be reached at email@example.com.)