Prior to last night’s State of the Union speech, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign contacted the President’s supporters to ask them for small donations. Unlike in the past, however, anyone who donated the day before the speech would get their name added to a ticker running at the bottom of the campaign’s livestream of the event. This was a weird take on livestream culture and one that went awry badly.
As CNN and other outlets reported yesterday, voters on the campaign’s mailing lists received an email asking them to contribute as little as $1 to get their names displayed in a livestream of the Trump’s first State of the Union. “Even if you choose to only give $1, the proof of your support will send shockwaves around the world as they see every American who proudly stands behind our President,” said the email. “So before the speech, make your contribution of just $1 to have it displayed right under the livestream of the President’s State of the Union.”
According to a page on the campaign’s website a list of supporters who donated would also be printed out and actually delivered to the President. “Contribute now and make sure he sees your name!” it said, because everyone dreams of having their name run through one of the White House’s paper shredders.
It’s the kind of thing you might more normally see Twitch streamers and YouTubers do. Reliant on a supportive fanbase for money, thanking people for donating or subscribing by name during a broadcast or Let’s Play is quite common. Kinda Funny Games, a video and podcast group consisting of former IGN employees used to flash the names of Patreon subscribers during its livestreamed morning show. The Donation Button on Twitch even makes the practice interactive, with viewers getting to see their names pop up whenever they donate using the platform’s proprietary “Bit Emoticon” cheers.
Usually the point is to feel a part of the action, support an artist you like, or simply bask in the momentary glow of feeling digitally close to a celebrity, like paying someone popular to be friends with you. Trump’s campaign livestream wasn’t interactive, though, since people had to fork up money ahead of time. And those who did weren’t even getting to be a part of a big, national broadcast. Every major network and cable news channel carried the speech and you couldn’t go three clicks without seeing a livestream embedded somewhere online. In the end, Trump’s would-be Twitch State of the Union was just his most enthusiastic fans performing for one another in a small Facebook feed while dumping money into Trump’s political war chest. There some pranksters in there as well, unless that really was the real Vladimir P donating $35 to the Trump campaign.
The people who gave didn’t get quite the glamorous showcase they may have paid for. Trump’s speech was the third longest on record. Despite reading much shorter on paper, he managed to drag it out to an hour and 20 minutes. The livestream on the Donald J. Trump Facebook page went even longer though, eventually clocking in at just over three hours and 58 minutes. A full two-thirds of it was just dead air as people’s names followed by their home state and the amount of their donation flashed across the screen. At least the President will see all the names in the print-out, right?
Imagine if Awesome Games Done Quick, the annual video game speedrunning marathon, took most of the donors’ names it reads and shoved them into a seperate, post-marathon stream. At least in that situation people who donated would still know that their money had gone to the Prevent Cancer Foundation rather than a billionaire adept at fueling culture wars with all the nuance and subtlety of a YouTube comment thread. While it was surreal to see a President try to leverage streaming to collect some extra money, the weirdest part was just how half-assed the attempt was. By the time Logan Paul finally resuscitates his public image and becomes President, maybe we’ll get the YouTube State of the Union we all deserve.