Nothing is safe under the new president. The White House is too small for him. He finds the rules of the game irritating. Even the planet itself is not to his liking. “Things are really bad out there,” he often says. There has been some speculation that the billionaire might end up with a depression in view of such a multitude of problems. But his reaction has been quite different. Aided by his chief strategist, the shadowy Steve Bannon, he has begun “the deconstruction of the system” and announced that he wants to resume the nuclear arms race.
It is at times like these that history goes out in search of explanations – phrases, slogans, ideas that will capture the zeitgeist and dominate it, if only linguistically. Many such mottos have been coined in recent weeks in the capital of the empire. But one in particular has made world waves: Democracy Dies in Darkness. Four words that The Washington Post has added beneath its masthead, for the first time in 140 years.
The heads of the media organization that uncovered the Watergate case and is now leading the battle against Trump with its exclusives insist that the slogan is not a superficial reaction to the attacks leveled at them by the president in recent weeks. On the contrary, they note that this was a long and well thought-out project in the making, and that a final decision was made after turning down 500 alternatives.
The idea came up over a year ago, when senior executives at the Post decided to adopt a “disruptive and uncomfortable” slogan that would define them in the eyes of their readers. An active participant in the search was Amazon.com founder and billionaire Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is the current owner of the Post. It was he who proposed the phrase after hearing Bob Woodward use it at a conference about opaqueness in government under Nixon. They were not new words. The mentor of generations of journalists has been using it for decades, ever since he read a nearly identical version in a judicial opinion issued by the legendary 6th Circuit judge Damon J. Keith, the same one who released the recordings that brought Nixon down.
That is the archeology of the slogan. And perhaps therein lies its deepest meaning. But few people have paid attention to that. Ever since its publication, the slogan has gained a life of its own. Viral and controversial – more so than many news stories – it’s been viewed as a sign of the times, an encapsulation of the threat looming over the United States. Four words etched on the highest part of the mast, ready for combat.
English version by Susana Urra.