At 2:30 a.m. on election night, Donald Trump came out to address the nation. He took forever to get around to it—the C-SPAN feed kept showing the empty presidential lectern and a ridiculously overstuffed array of of American flags behind it. Finally his adult children, maskless and smug-looking, marched into the room, and then “Hail to the Chief ” played and he came on and started talking. He jabbered something about how he was the real winner of the election, and while Twitter appropriately freaked out about the president talking as if he were staging a coup, I found myself turning off the sound. It was literal but not serious. What mattered were the returns, not whatever was coming out of his mouth.
The president has kept jabbering off and on ever since, and tweeting, and putting out at least one ALL CAPS press release. What has he been saying? Beats me. It looks like it’s been the same old “FRAUD” stuff, but it’s not really breaking into the coverage. He’s been yelling at Fox about how it called Arizona for Joe Biden, but Fox is keeping Arizona on the board. Attorney General William Barr, who was selling the fraud angle as hard as he could in the run-up to the election, hasn’t said anything. Nikki Haley is thanking Trump for his service and being extremely noncommittal. Nothing he says or does so far has enabled him to grab a news cycle.
This is a glimpse of a future that’s been on its way all along but out of sight until now. For four and a half years, everything Trump said, no matter how stupid or evil or untrue, was mandatory listening. He was the star of the biggest hit TV show in the world, with brand extensions dominating print and social media and conversation, every possible medium of informational exchange. Every hit show is inescapable until one day, everyone starts watching something else instead. It’s the nature of being a mass phenomenon: People were only interested in you because other people were interested in you, and nobody can remember why they were interested in you. The president is scheduled to say something or other at 6:30 p.m . on Thursday. But the show that matters now is the Map Show, and the map is the thing over which Trump has no control.