I've mentioned this here before once or twice, but I'll state it again as succinctly as I can. I grew up in the second half of the 20th Century, when the epic convulsions of the first half of the 20th Century still cast a deep shadow. And so I always wondered what Americans should do if democracy here found itself under threat, just as had happened in so many developed countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. When I became a journalist, I wondered what journalists should do. At what point does the danger become so palpable that inaction -- or even playing by the normal rules -- becomes unacceptable?
The rise of Donald Trump -- and the appeals to violence, racism, xenophobia and misogyny that have surrounded his so-called movement -- has pushed that question to the brink. I've been very overt about the need for a Trump Resistance, even as it increasingly appears that his effort to grab the GOP nomination in Cleveland may fall just short.
Until now, only the Huffington Post -- an icon of new media, but not of the mainstream Church of Journalistic Convention that holds its services in Washington and New York -- has really broken through that 4th Wall of 4th Estate propriety, running a disclaimer about Trump's presidential unfitness with every article. But today, the Boston Globe joined the #NeverTrump movement in a big way.
Ten days after April Fool's Day, this morning's Globe was distributed with a mock front page predicting what America might look like one year from today under a Trump administration. The start of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants is causing riots in the streets. Trump's trade wars have caused the Dow to plunge. The military has practically staged a coup in refusing to go after terrorists' families, while the press -- and libel laws -- are under siege.
Although it wasn't a format I imagined, this was, in a sense, what I'd dreamed of in supporting the idea of journalism challenging Trump in a unique way. Trump's alarming ascension to the top of the GOP leaderboard, for now, is not business as usual for America, and so the faux front page was the Globe's way of screaming that urgency to its readers. It was bold, it was different, it was courageous. I applaud the editors of the Globe for doing this.
And yet, I also have to confess feeling some disappointment, even discouragement, at the exercise.
Disappointment because the idea needed perfect execution -- which was lacking. When it comes to satire, I've read The Onion, and you, sir, are no Onion. As a parody, the Globe's exercise was largely on the level of a college newspaper April Fool's Issue without the dirty jokes, and the sophomoric nature of the humor made it harder to like the idea.
More importantly, its political analysis of the impact of Trump seemed off-kilter. The lead story implied that Trump's proposed mass deportation would cause violent riots -- by liberal foes of the plan. Really? My problem with Trump -- why I think he's an unacceptable candidate requiring extraordinary measures -- is violence by HIS supporters, not by his opponents.
Finally, the piece is accompanied by a non-fake editorial that proclaims "the GOP must stop Trump." The GOP? Again...really? That's like asking cancer to remove your tumor, instead of asking a surgeon. Trump is merely an extreme, gross symptom of decades of Republican pathology -- using coded language on issues like race and immigration until Trump tossed the code book out their window. The GOP is not capable of stopping Trump because the GOP created Trump.
Only WE can stop Trump.
But I'm also discouraged because, after seeing the Globe's effort, I'm wondering something that I've fretted about in the recent past: Is there anything at all that journalists can do that would play an affirmative role in preventing a Trump presidency? After all, Trump only happened because of a tectonic shift in Americans' attitudes since the 1970s, when investigative reporting played a role in bringing down a president. Trump is only the Republican frontrunner in 2016 because millions of people have completely lost faith in professional politicians -- and those same voters have even less faith in the news media.
This new genre of #NeverTrump journalism could have an impact -- not on the GOP, but in convincing more people to register and vote in November if Trump is the nominee. But it won't sway a single Trump supporter over on the Republican side. They didn't believe a single word in the Boston Globe -- even before it started making stuff up.