To open the first U.S. Presidential debate of 2016, Hillary Clinton entered stage left in a bright red pantsuit. Immediately, Berry Berringer—watching with some friends at a minimal hipster pad—unlocked her iPhone and tweeted, “Loves it”.
Then: “Blue tie for Trump. Low energy. Sad!”
Then: “Brooklyn got HRC looking fierce. Strong response to Hillary sick conspiro.”
Someone in the room said, “Berry.” But Berry couldn’t be bothered. Her eyes darted between the Twitter favs coming in, all the other tweets from all the other political junkies, and, of course, the debate itself—streaming via the internet from a laptop to a nice flatscreen. Berry studied Hillary’s opening remarks. The candidate was discussing her thirty-year track record. Berry looked for gaffes and/or “unpresidential” body language. Ultimately, while it wasn’t the heroic opening salvo some may have hoped for, there were no red flags. “Hill being Hill”, she tweeted.
Then: “Feeling nervous. Trump’s prolly gonna come across as normal and energetic, isn’t he? Fuck him for that. Fuck him straight to hell ;)”
“Berry…” It was the same voice as before. Berry didn’t respond. “Berry, c’mon, get off your phone, pass the weed to Josh.”
It took Berry a second. “Huh?” she said.
A guy with black jeans reached over a glass coffee table and passed Berry a smoldering joint and a pink lighter. Berry held the joint at arm’s length and passed it to Josh’s girlfriend, Lizzie, seated in a translucent plastic chair behind Berry.
Lizzie smiled, took a little hit for herself, and passed the joint over to the white couch, to Josh—crammed in with some other artist-looking people.
Exhaling, Lizzie said, “You don’t smoke anymore, Blueberry?”
“No, not really.” Berry turned around and displayed her Twitter feed to Lizzie. “New addiction.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” said Lizzie. “Everything you post is pretty political, huh?” Lizzie looked down to #debate2016 tweets from the thousands of pundits, election nerds, and political journalists Berry followed. Then she noticed Berry’s follower number.
“Fifteen-thousand people follow you? Damn girl, you’ve only been on this political shit a couple months.”
“Most of them are fake.” Berry let out an odd, uncomfortable laugh and turned back to watch the debate.
“You should make a painting about the debate, Blueberry…” Lizzie nodded, sipping her michelada. “Like the TV screen, with, like, the CNN branding.”
Berry didn’t turn around; she just nodded a bit. “Need a studio first.”
“You gave yours up?”
“Plus, it’s been done,” Berry continued. “People have made CNN paintings before.”
“Who’s done that?” asked Lizzie.
The broadcast cut in and out. Wifi problems. Berry stood up and looked around. No one else seemed to notice. “What happened to—”
And then it came in smooth again. She sat back down and began composing a tweet: “At a place with sketchy wifi. Swear to god if i can’t watch this #kms…” She added two emojis: a devil and a skull.
“So what do you think, Blueberry?” Josh’s deep voice. “How’s Trump doin’ so far?” There was a grin on Josh’s face. Another guy next to him was grinning too.
Berry watched Trump on the TV. He was talking about how the U.S. gets killed on trade deals. “This is a good talking point for Trump.”
“Yeah?” said Josh, winking at Lizzie, who was having difficulty holding in a laugh.
Berry pulled away from the screen to look at the two of them. “Yeah. I mean, it’s basically bullshit as policy, like we’d never drop out of NAFTA, or at least, I don’t think we should, or if we did it would be catastrophic, but this stuff about the old factories and the middle-class resonates with voters, at least in, um, some places, places like western Ohio or whatever, basically places with lots of poor whites, i.e., the type of people he’ll need to win with large margins if he’s gonna seal the deal on—” she put her fingers in air quotes—“‘the Buckeye State.’”
Josh nodded, amused. “Never heard anyone say ‘i.e.’ out loud before. Impressive.”
“‘The Buckeye State,’” repeated Lizzie. “Buckeye...State…”
“Yeah…” said Berry. “The cities over there go Democrat so he needs to win all the little towns.” She glanced back over to the TV.
“Basically racists,” someone in the corner said.
“Trump is such a racist,” someone else added.
“What the fuck is a buckeye, though?” asked Josh, pulling Berry’s attention back towards him. “You must know, Blueberry. You seem to know everything.”
Berry said, “It’s a kind of nut.”
“Oh like a crazy person?” asked Josh, grinning and punching his buddy in the arm. The buddy punched Josh back in the side.
“Yeah, exactly, a crazy person,” replied Berry, rolling her eyes. She looked back down to her phone: there were so many good new tweets that she’d missed. She breathed deeply.
“Oh, wait, look at this, Berry.” It was Lizzie’s voice. “Do an image search for buckeye. There’s this whole thing where the leaves of buckeyes look like weed leaves.”
Berry pretended she didn’t hear that. She tweeted: “Gonna need this tonight *takes shot of bourbon*”, which immediately received some Twitter favs. Hearts were popping up on Berry’s screen; her own heart rushed while her mind churned, trying to come up with another tweet to continue that flow of hearts, love.
Berry scrolled. All the political junkies in her feed were gorging themselves on the endless flow of analysis and debate-related jokes. Apart from election night itself, debates were the big events of the cycle.
Berry shook her head. A few people in her feed were fact-checking a Trump comment. “It doesn’t matt-errrr....” she sang to herself, “no one caaa-ares anymoo-oore….”.
“What?” asked Lizzie, loudly. "What do you mean no one cares?"
Berry didn’t respond. She was trying to compose a new tweet.
“Damn, I’m sorry if I’m not as informed as you Berry.”
“Sorry I’m not an expert on fucking buckeyes or whatever.”
Berry turned around. “I’m sorry, what is going on? Are you talking to me?” Josh was grinning.
“I said I’m sorry I showed you the stupid buckeye thing,” said Lizzie. “You didn’t have to be rude about it.” She took a sip of her michelada, finishing it.
Berry said, “Wait. No, seriously, what is going on?”
“You were singing that stupid little song. I heard you. You said no one cares anymore. Okay, fine, no one cares. But whatever, don’t be an asshole.” Some of the other people in the room were watching, nodding.
“Oh no…” Berry laughed, “no, I wasn’t talking about the buckeye thing, I was talking about how, like, no one, generally, cares about the facts anymore. No one cares about what’s really going on anymore. It’s just...like, you know, Trump has changed the game.” Berry laughed to herself. “I was talking about something someone tweeted.”
“Yo, shut the fuck up, I’m trying to watch,” someone said.
Berry scowled at him. “I am too!”
“Dingleberry, just be quiet. We’re trying to fucking watch!” Berry couldn’t see who had said that. Her face was growing red.
The guy in the black jeans again reached over the glass coffee table to pass the weed to Berry. She grabbed it and passed it over to Lizzie. Lizzie whispered, “Shhhh, be quiet for a minute, Berry...”
Berry looked back to the TV. Trump was now saying the person that hacked the Democratic National Committee might have been a four hundred pound guy in a basement. Everyone started cracking up. “Four hundred pounds!” a girl shrieked. “Trump’s so stupid!”
Someone else yelled, “Why don’t they ever answer the questions?! They just say whatever the fuck they want!”
Berry, biting her lip so hard it was white, tweeted, “At party with assholes. No one here gets or cares to get how politics rly works!???!!@! Not a single person!!! ARRRGGHHHHHHH#KMS!!!”
Someone immediately tweeted back, “Chill! Just have fun with it :)” Berry’s face grew even redder.
The guy in the black jeans passed the weed to Berry again. This time, almost without thinking, she took a hit. She started coughing. Smoke was blowing through her nose as she passed the joint to Lizzie.
“Quiet, Berry!” someone yelled. “We’re trying to watch! What are you doing??”
In between coughs, she retorted, “What am I doing? What are you doing?”
Lizzie, looking concerned, said, “It’s ok, Berry. Chill.”
Trump was talking about what a disaster Hillary was as Secretary of State. The wifi started cutting in and out. The debate stream froze.
“What’s going on?” asked Berry.
“Just chill, Dingleberry,” someone said. “Sit down!”
“No,” she replied. “You chill. And my name’s not ‘Dingleberry’!”
The signal came back on. Trump was now saying something about how Sidney Blumenthal started Birtherism. The signal was stuttering again. Someone blew out a cloud of weed smoke. It wafted over to Berry and got in her eyes. She looked up from Twitter to try and fan away the smoke. By the time she could see the TV, the debate was frozen on Trump’s face.
“Sit down, Dingleberry!” someone yelled.
Lizzie couldn’t help it, she was cracking up at everyone calling Berry “Dingleberry.”
Berry said, “Everyone shut up!” She began to walk to the laptop. “I’m gonna try to find another network. I can’t believe I’m missing this shit! I planned my whole week, my whole life around this!” She tripped, though, and fell into the coffee table.
“Dingleberry!” someone yelled and a few people laughed.
A little crack appeared on the glass. When she set her hand down on the glass to steady herself, the crack stretched. There was a drop of blood.
Berry stood up and almost tripped on something else, someone’s foot, on her way to the laptop. “Is there a password for the wifi?” she shouted.
Jenny, who was the person that lived there and always seemed to be cooking something, called out from the kitchen, “No, it should just work! Just give it a second!”
Berry was indiscriminately clicking on network troubleshooting options. She sang to herself lightly, so that no one else could hear, “No one knows what’s going on anymoo-oore…”