Thursday, February 23, 2017
Democracy Dies in Darkness
One of the first things I do every morning is check the Washington Post to see what new assault against American values the Trump administration has cooked up overnight. It's a great newspaper—I subscribe and you should too.
When I looked this morning, even before the news registered, I noted the change in the masthead above, featuring the paper's new slogan.
Journalistic sorts are debating its aptness. Some find it "awesome," others, melodramatic. A Huffington Post political editor jokingly tweeted the new HuffPo slogan, "The night is dark and full of terrors."
Hmm. It is dramatic. But if the online world teaches us anything, it's that understatement and nuance end up working at Panera Bread. It's arresting, but perhaps rightly so. "Don't tread on me" worked wonders for the Tea Party. I would argue that despite reporting on the gathering tragedy in this country and world, journalists still don't emotionally grasp what it means. The president is out to kill the media and impale its corpse on the White House fence—how's that for a slogan?—because he's driven bonkers by even the slightest rumble of digression as he vomits forth his lies. We are, as Hunter S. Thompson would say, like a wild beast thrown into a sawdust pit to fight for its life (another contender).
The media reports the iceberg, the gash, the listing ship, but doesn't quite understand the implications of the freezing water all around. They are, for instance, still going ahead with this year's Correspondents Dinner, a creaky Washington insider tradition that was ethically squishy before the president, who might not even show, labeled them "the enemy of the American people." That's like insisting on holding afternoon tea in the lifeboats, because it's on the ship's schedule. I can't imagine going. Then again, I can't imagine accepting the Congressional Medal of Honor from Donald Trump, not if I threw myself on a grenade to save my buddies.
Maybe it's "darkness," which does have a whiff of the poetic. Not to play editor, but you could cut it in half, "Democracy dies," and sum up our moment just as succinctly and perhaps with more power. Because that's what we're seeing. It isn't dead but, at Monty Python would say, "it isn't at all well."
Then again, the whole concept of slogans is fusty. "All the news that's fit to print," sounds as old-fashioned as a butter churn, in an era when a guy can brag about grabbin' 'em by the pussy and get elected anyway.
The "Democracy dies..." line has been bandied about by Bob Woodward, the Post's legendary Watergate reporter and editor, and that alone should cast suspicion on it, as his reputation is kinda checkered. Post spokesperson Kris Coratti told CNN it will be used online, and perhaps in print too. "We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year. We started with our newest readers on Snapchat, and plan to roll it out on our other platforms in the coming weeks."
How corporate. I too have a concise values statement about the business—"You've got to put the slop where the pigs can get at it"—but I'm not sure I'd want to see it under the Sun-Times masthead. (The Sun-Times does have a slogan, "An Independent Newspaper," which is soft-spoken and I suppose could use freshening, though, in this day of media behemoths, that's actually quite an important distinction and something to crow about).
If we do change it, I'd put my bid in for "Death to Tyrants," but the Secret Service might pay me a visit, and I'd have to explain I mean only political death. I hope Trump lives to be 90 and sees his name a codeword for betrayal, like "Quisling."
I do like the spirit behind "Democracy Dies in Darkness." Though, if forced to choose, I'd have to agree with those who find it a misstep. When the dry facts are that the president of the United States is a cruel fraud and pathological liar who, along with his neo-Nazi buddies, are tearing at the heart of America, pithy slogans just sound trivial. Arby's can say, "We've got the Meat," but the Mayo Clinic shouldn't dub itself, "The Illness Blasters."
Plus, there's that alliteration—almost always annoying. "Trump Teaches Totalitarianism" is true too, but kinda kindergarten. Second, it's sort of a downer, isn't it? Why not "Freedom Grows in the Sunlight"? Darkness is certainly falling and Democracy shudders every time it gets an injection of poison from nice old Dr. Trump. I'm just not sure I want to be reminded of that every single time I look at the Washington Post. The news stories do that already.