Donald Trump has failed at so much in his life that it may seem unfair to say his recent foray into music is unique in its badness. After all, the former president has bankrupted a casino, defaulted on an airline, and flubbed ownership of a professional football team, to name just a few of his ignominious flops. In this grand scheme of things, what’s one terrible song in the face of a lifetime of costly failures? Is Trump’s newly released “Justice for All” single truly on par with his more expensive flops in terms of sheer embarrassing badness? Oh God, yes. Yes, it sure is.
To begin with, the song itself largely consists of an atonal shouting rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “sung” by the J6 Prison Choir — a group of twenty or so men jailed at the Washington, D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility for their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol complex. While Trump himself gets top billing for the track, his actual involvement is limited to a nasally recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance that bursts through the choir’s sung verses at awkwardly timed moments with all the solemnity and bravado you’d expect from a man who does the Elain Benes dance after every political rally. Ostensibly this echo-heavy call and response act is to remind listeners that the song is patriotic and American and very serious, but in effect it only reminds people that Trump might not actually know the words to the national anthem in the first place. To the extent that there is a through-line that holds the wildly off-balance track together, it’s the brooding keyboard tones tasked with the herculean challenge of making it seem like everyone is in tune with one another. That it fails spectacularly at that challenge is as much an indictment of the song’s anonymous producer as it is the singing ability of everyone involved. Those hoping for a dash of coherent melody need not apply.
Then again, those looking for a coherent melody are probably not the song’s intended audience to begin with. Although it knocked off Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” to reach Number One on iTunes last weekend, Variety notes that songs can assume a commanding-seeming top position on iTunes with just a few thousand sales in a single day, giving a sense of inflated significance that doesn’t necessarily translate to broader chart success. On Spotify, for instance, “Justice for All” has wallowed in relative obscurity with less than 150,000 plays, while Cyrus broke a company record with 100 million streams in her single’s first week out. Trump’s track seems less concerned with artistic merit and aural pleasure than it does MAGA virtue signaling, as the former president moves ahead with his 2024 reelection bid; the track’s most sincere moment comes in its final seconds, as the prisoners begin to chant “USA! USA!,” dropping the somber pretense of respectful victimhood in favor of the chest-thumpery better suited to a group of dudes accused of smashing their way into Congress. (Trump, at this point in the song, has gone conspicuously silent.)
Promises to use the song’s sales to support the incarcerated J6 defendants notwithstanding, it’s hard to say exactly who “Justice for All” is really for? Does the MAGA universe care that it’s largely unlistenable? Do they cue it up on their headphones and push through the dirge while they go jogging, or blast it from the speakers of their extended cab F-150s while they record a YouTube video about how seeing a trans cashier at Walmart ruined their weekend? What is this the soundtrack to, exactly? The next presidential inauguration party? Let’s hope not.