— Onion Politics (@OnionPolitics) May 23, 2017
The Onion has long been a high marker for American satire. But what is a site to do when they have a stated rule of “no low-hanging fruit” at a time when all fruit in sight seems to already be rotting on the ground? How do you make clever satire of Donald Trump, a distinctly and proudly unclever man?
The site has been making fun of Trump for years. Cole Bolton, the editor-in-chief, told the New Yorker they “always thought of him as a horrendous buffoon, an objectionable person.” One headline from 2013 reading “When You’re Feeling Low, Just Remember I’ll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years,” inspired a threat of legal action from Trump’s lawyer that the Onion “gleefully declined” to give a crap about.
But now they’ve taken their mockery to presidential levels, in the form of one of Trump’s greatest irritations: leaks. Just hundreds of leaks.
Over the last four months, the staff has been putting together a giant “document dump,” which Bolton describes as “the vogue way to talk about major breaking news in the world, whether it’s WikiLeaks or the Panama Papers. Leaks seemed like the perfect means to get at Trump and his inner circle, as well as his decision-making.” The site claims the documents come from an “anonymous source inside the White House,” and while they’re hilarious and clearly satirical, there’s also an eeriness to their verisimilitude. The months of work this project took is clear in the details, with most documents on apparent White House letterhead.
In between the more obvious jokes–like Kellyanne Conway’s Craigslist ad looking for a “young man willing to withstand physical blows” (hey, she has to get her aggression out somehow) or the “secret recording” of aides discussing Sean Spicer’s punishments while Sean whimpers from a locked cage–there are documents with a distressing degree of believability. Like, for example, a completely normal-looking Executive Order Establishing Trump as the Legitimate President, signed into action by Trump, with weekly updates giving him more and more “legitimacy.” Did you know that winning the presidency by a “record-breaking 306 Electoral College votes” means that “he will be held in the same regard as all former U.S. presidents including:
I. Abraham Lincoln
II. Ronald Reagan
III. Barack Obama?
Yup, it’s true. We also have to hold him “in a higher regard” than Angela Merkel and FDR. It’s the law, “regardless of what the press says.”
According to Bolton, “Our intention is not for them to be perceived as real. It’s to make them look as much like actual things as possible. That helps with the satire. We put a lot of effort into these things not to try to fool people but to try to expose underlying truths, as we see them, about the Trump Administration.” Between the graphics layout and the fact that they typed (or hand-wrote), printed, and scanned every page, the resemblance to real leaked documents in uncanny.
The Onion, again, has created hundreds of these documents. They’ve set up a special website, dividing the leaks into their corresponding member of Trump’s administration and family, and they’ll be revealing a batch of them every day for the next two weeks via Facebook Live in the form of a press conference with the Onion’s “Washington bureau chief.”
There is a LOT to look at on the site, and with the painful attention to detail, it’s worth spending a good amount of time with. Here are just a few of my own favorites:
– Trump’s “Fill-In-The-Blanks Executive Order Template” (It is the responsibility of the United States government to protect and defend its citizens from [fear-inducing noun] and [synonym of fear-inducing noun] at home and abroad.)
– Ivanka Trump’s “instructions for feeding and putting President Trump to bed”
– Donald Trump’s daily briefing notes:
– This email exchange as “President Trump Discusses Youngest Son With Kellyanne Conway” in its entirety:
Do yourself a favor and spend some time with all these documents that hit that bittersweet spot between “too close to reality” and “let’s laugh while it’s still satire.”
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