Waiting for Trump

What is being shown here is a series of random characters. They appear on-screen fifteen times a second and each one is checked to see, wholly by chance, if it is the magic word. What’s the magic word? I made several variations and the magic words were words like “Impeachment,” “High Crimes,” “Bribery,” and “MAGA.” If one of those Trump words was hit upon then the program would pause for one week.

When I initially created the computer program in the fall of 2017 the average time it would need to run before it paused was about equal to the remainder of Trump’s first term. I thought that was funny.

The original work looked like a video at first but it was not. It was this:

candidateString = getCandidateString();
  int cursorLocationH = int(width/2) - (int(textWidth(candidateString)/2));
  int cursorLocationV = int( (height/2) + int(textDescent()*1.6)  );

  for (int i = 0; i < candidateString.length(); i++) {
    text(candidateString.charAt(i), cursorLocationH, cursorLocationV);
    cursorLocationH = cursorLocationH + int(textWidth(candidateString.charAt(i)));

You can see what it does even if you don’t code. The first part is finding the middle of the screen. The second part is writing something there. It’s simple. There’s more to the code–there’s the part that creates the random letters, the part that checks to see if we have a magic word, but those are simple, too.

A few months ago I ran the programs on a 1974 Sony KV-1214, a thirteen inch TV that I had recently purchased for $250 off E-bay in order to recreate (in some as yet undefined way) a Robert Heinicken photo from about 1974 in which that particular TV was featured. You need a series of adapters to get that old TV to display a signal from your computer but that, in the end, is simple.

While they were running I shot a video off the TV screen, which introduced all kinds of interesting effects. So this computer program which looks like a video now really is a video. Unless I write code to display the video. Then it’s code again.

Today, the day after Election Day is a day of unconcentration. It’s hard to focus on much of anything. Biden seems to have won and we are just waiting for the final result. Unless he didn’t win, in which case we will also be waiting for the final result, just a different kind of final result.

In this confusion three things are already clear:

First, Trump, president during a pandemic and a battered economy that would have politically crushed any other president, barely loses against Biden, despite great enthusiasm on the Democratic side. That speaks to incredible political strength. Even in defeat a third of the country sees him as their champion, a messiah of sorts. Trump, and the political movement that propelled him to power, is not going away, ever.

Second, Tucker Carlson, the most popular host on Fox News, despite once-upon-a-time having his career nearly ended when Jon Stewart called him a dick to his face, live on national TV, made an interesting point, one that half suggests where he thinks the country is and half suggests where he wants the country to go. Pointing to the persistent demographic distinctions between Biden and Trump supporters he said that the Republican Party was becoming the party of the working man. And that seems, shocking as it is to put on those terms, exactly right. Aside from the political irony of having the former backbone of the Democratic Party adopted by the Tea-Party-pretending-to-be-Republicans, it raises the important question—is the current Democratic coalition the right one to defeat a redefined Republican Party?

Third, even in defeat Trump isn’t out of the White House yet. He’s got two and a half more months to go and the House and Senate are still held by Republicans. Yes, of course many Republicans are inching away from the President even before the race if officially called, political expediency trumping even Trump, but two and a half months is still a long time. Think about how much the past four years has been one outrage after the next, relentlessly, setting the news cycle, and you start to realize that we aren’t fully awake from this nightmare yet.

Trump Words, like many of the political art projects from the past four years, has a hypnotic element, especially strong if played on a large screen in a darkened room. There’s a sense of waiting and if you only wait a little longer you’ll get what you want. But my program can go a very long time, much longer than a single presidential term, before it hits a magic word. There’s a big difference between the average time and the maximum possible time which, in all practical terms, can mean you will wait forever.

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