WASHINGTON — Felicita Mendez, the campaign director of a leading progressive organization, holds up a copy of a fictional issue of The Washington Post that looks, feels, and smells very much like the real pages of this paper. “It’s uncanny how closely its story echoed what really happened with Trump.”
Distributed four months before Donald Trump fled presidential office, the paper’s tagline was a readers’ first clue that it was an elaborate fantasy rather than a real issue of the paper: Instead of the usual “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” the mock paper read “Democracy Awakens in Action.” The lead story announced that Trump had fled presidential office — eerily prefiguring today’s actual news.
The faux newspaper was handed out to people around Washington, D.C. just a few days before the 2019 Women’s Marches and the content was widely shared online.
It’s a coincidence that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Earlier today, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” released a video featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. In the video, Baldwin is seen reading the pretend issue of The Washington Post while frantically checking his watch and consulting his calendar. He then calls his aides into the Oval Office to berate them: “Why didn’t anyone tell me I’m supposed to be fleeing the country? I had to learn it from the fake news media? You’re all fired!”
While the contents of the fiction paper included some humor — referring to President Pence as a “clipped duck” and imagining “sticky scenes of chaos” when women protesters took over Congressional offices with small children in tow — it was notable for its fact-based approach.
“You couldn’t really call this fake news,” said media analyst Monika Krishnaya, pointing to the paper’s accounts of actual protests and direct actions that had taken place since Trump’s election. “This fantasy, if you will, wasn’t fake news; it’s pre-real news. It’s a clear story about a future that could and must be.
“At this point, since it turned out to be so close to reality, I guess we really can’t call it fiction at all.”
One dedicated section of the paper detailed “The Bundle,” the authors’ name for a package of progressive initiatives that advanced and expanded on the widely popular Green New Deal. Initiatives included Medicare for All, free college tuition, the forgiveness of student loan debt, well-funded public libraries and institutions, and an ambitious zero-emissions and de-carbonization plan. Many of measures are now are now gaining traction in in an emboldened Congress.
The ersatz Post also included a guerrilla “Action Guide” that offered a blueprint for escalating resistance to dislodge Trump from office. The guide counseled Americans opposed to Trump’s presidency to “act like the majority we already are” and focus protest energy on Trump’s enablers rather than Trump himself, in a strategy of removing what the guide termed “pillars of support” for his presidency. The grassroots push for members of Congress to sign the now-famous pledge of noncooperation with Trump, which began with protests targeting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, mirrored this strategy, as did the massive late-April protest calling for his Twitter account to be deactivated.
No single group, leader, tactic, or action alone was responsible for Trump’s historic departure. Rather, a confluence of factors drove him from office. Though the fictional Post was only one contributor to the stunning spring of protests, its impact was noteworthy enough that the (real) Post is commemorating it today by reprinting the “Action Guide” as an insert.