Make them dance

David Bromwich

The Presidential Debate Watch at the Apollo Theater in Harlem – it was a scene. The line wound around the block at 125th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, but a friend and I were 'VIP' guests of one of the panellists, causing some embarrassment as we tried to figure out the way in; an organiser mistook 'VIP' for 'RSVP' and sent us to the line for aspiring almost-ticket-holders who didn't like the encroachment. Inside, the DJ in the balcony box stage right, DJ Enuff, was dancing to the tracks he played, and forwarding, to a large screen at the front, stills and short video shots of the crowd, taken by himself, plus selfies sent by the crowd, and tweets mostly just saying 'We are here!' but others more expressive: 'The DJ is filling us with love, which we need'; 'Are there any Trump supporters here? Or did all this fine ass melanin scare them off?'; 'READY TO RUMBLE'; 'May the best woman win.' My friend said about Trump and HRC: 'They should be forced to dance together, before they debate.'

Before the panel, a string quartet played the national anthem (most of the audience stood up), followed by the black national anthem 'Lift Every Voice', led by Charisa the Violin Diva, a gospel singer playing a neon-red plastic violin; the fiddling good and a voice to bring down the roof, 'a multiple winner at amateur nights' at the Apollo. The moderator had to follow this act: 'I cannot sing, I cannot dance, this is the only way I will make it to this stage, but I'll take any way I can get.' She asked the tweet question again, 'Who out there is supporting whom?' - a stadium roar for Hillary, a few claps for Gary Johnson and a few more (10 to 20) for Jill Stein. When it came to Trump, one person raised her hand. What courage that took! The crowd loved it and gave her a boost of applause.

Almost all the panel discussion was about Trump. When a panellist mentioned HRC's neoconservative advisers on foreign policy as a sign of danger, and named names (Wolfowitz, Kagan and Boot), the recognition was zero and none of the other panellists took it up. (In the forty minutes of commentary less than a minute dealt with foreign policy.) HRC's blundering witticism a few days earlier calling half the Trump voters 'a basket of deplorables' prompted a riff by the moderator in closing, to her line-up of panelists: 'You have been a wonderful basket of intellectuals.'

A few minutes into the debate my friend and I were talking about HRC as unsatisfactory in so many ways that are easily known v. Trump the rogue, politically the unknown unknown incarnate, and a woman in front of us turned back: 'I would like to see him be president somewhere else.' Clinton's well-planted line 'Trumped-up trickle-down' got huge laughter and applause – the audience heard a double entendre that (I think) wasn't meant, but it gave the anti-Reagan boilerplate a delicacy and depth worthy of Congreve. (My companion a few minutes later: 'She's peppier; he has lost height.' That was how it looked, too.) When Hillary quoted his real-estate-magnate reaction to the 2006 tremors of the 2007 housing collapse, saying he hoped it would happen because he could buy low and sell high, the reminder of the heartless quip drew a murmured disapproval, which was nothing compared to the groan of execration at Trump's crooked-proud self-acquittal, leaning in: 'That's called business, by the way.' Later more sober and rehearsed he said: 'My tax cut is the biggest since Ronald Reagan' – a ripple of uneasy laughs and the sense of it was, we are still living in a country where Ronald Reagan is a sacred name to many.

HRC's formulation, 'Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law,' seemed to me her best moment in the debate; a very difficult balance. Trump answered with the Nixon incantation 'law and order' and lauded the stop-and-frisk policies instituted in NYC by Mayor Giuliani – a chorus of boos, loud and sustained. His pedantic afterthought, 'I think I've developed very good relationships over the last little while with the African American community,' was closely read and with the proper hilarity for the parenthetical 'last little while'; and when a bit later he was asked about the birther stuff there was a random, wild shout: 'Get him, Hillary!'

The crowd filed out much satisfied. The solitary Trump supporter, on her way out, was saluted with a warmth that seemed to mix condolence and pride in 'our democracy'.