On April 1, 1988, my college newspaper published an April Fools article about Donald Trump buying Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center and proclaiming himself its president. It was the last semester of my freshman year and by that point, I’d heard Al Gore and Jesse Jackson debate on our campus, I’d voted for the first time, and I’d written a handful of real articles for our paper, The Observer. The most memorable to me was a review of the movie Cry Freedom, co-starring Fordham alum Denzel Washington. It sticks out not because of Denzel, but because I wasn’t honest in the piece. I praised the movie even though when I saw it, I was annoyed that it focused more on white South African journalist Donald Woods than black South African martyr, Stephen Biko. Who was I, lowly college freshman, to take issue with famed director Richard Attenborough and his vision? Who was I to speak my mind?
Almost thirty years later, as Trump was headed toward Republican Presidential nominee, our alumni editors plucked the April Fools issue and its Trump University masthead from the vaults, and posted highlights on our alumni page: A heliport will be constructed on one of the school’s buildings. The theater program will feature a Vegas-style floor show. “I always wanted to own an institution of higher learning,” Trump is fake-quoted as saying. “And to be able to mold impressionable minds in my own image…” Had our collegial joke performed some kind of hoodoo and released the Kraken? Were we in any way responsible for turning fake news into reality?
Words are powerful. Beyond four letter ones, I don’t play around with curses or fool with incantations. But when I’m feeling desperate, and utterly powerless, I do allow myself to flip through Zora Neale Hurston’s book of folklore Mules and Men just to check my options. Her book includes spells for catching a murderer, renting a house, and making someone fall in love with you, but none for taking back what you wrote or said even in jest or for restoring democracy. For that I think we’ll just have to write enough truthful words to match (or maybe triple) all the fake ones, trusting the power in them, while we wait for the joke to be over and the prankster to scream “April Fools.”