Vail Daily column: Orwell’s predictions becoming reality
February 9, 2017
As I write this, the current No. 1 bestseller in books on Amazon.com is "1984" Due to an increase in local interest, The Bookworm of Edwards has it on back order. Written in the final years of his life when he was ill and in pain, George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece was published in 1949. Originally the title was to be "1980," then "1982," but eventually "1984" was selected, making that year infamous long before it arrived.
Required reading in my high school English class, I smugly assumed Orwell modeled the fictional society of Oceania on the Soviet Union. Jokes about Big Brother aside, I never seriously thought Orwell's predictions would one day apply to the United States. Now I think Orwell was off by 33 years.
In Oceania the authoritarian government communicates to the populace through a contrived language known as newspeak. Newspeak is intended to be ambiguous and euphemistic in order to disguise meaning with the intention of limiting thought. Transcripts of Donald Trump's campaign speeches reveal a garbled jumble of insults, lies, dog whistle rhetoric (code words that appeal to targeted groups) and conceits about him. In one speech he used the word "win" 12 times in 15 seconds. According to the writer Jordon Bates of HighExistence.com, repetition "subtly conditions people to associate strength and victory with the Trump campaign. You might think that this tactic is silly or would only be effective on unintelligent people, but you'd be wrong."
Another aspect of communication in Oceania is the principle of doublethink. Winston, the novel's protagonist explains that doublethink is " … to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies … " In 2016, America elected a man averse to veracity. According to Politifact.com the only other candidate less truthful than the president is the man he nominated to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson. What is unclear is whether or not either man believes his own lies.
The current president won the electoral vote, but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. His outsized ego cannot accept that he lost the popular vote, and losing conflicts with his contrived image of always winning, so he resorted to what he does best — he fabricated a lie. "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Neither the president nor his source for this claim, app creator Gregg Phillips, have produced one scintilla of proof that such fraud took place. In response to Trump's allegations, the National Association of Secretaries of State, who oversee elections and are predominantly Republican, responded, "We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump … " Republican Secretary of State for Ohio Jon Husted tweeted, "We conducted a review four years ago in Ohio and already have a statewide review of 2016 election underway. Easy to vote, hard to cheat."
Despite photographic evidence to the contrary the president and his press secretary publicly claimed his inauguration drew the largest crowd in history. "This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe," Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm about the inauguration are shameful and wrong." When Chuck Todd questioned Kellyanne Conway on "Meet the Press" as to why Spicer would begin his tenure as White House Press Secretary "uttering a falsehood," she admonished Todd not to be "so dramatic." She characterized Spicer's comments as providing "alternate facts."
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Frequently, Trump has lied about positions and statements that are demonstrably untrue and supported by video or audio evidence, such as his initial support for the Iraq War. Recently, protests erupted around the country following Trump's executive order to prohibit citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. During his campaign Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States … " In the summer of 2016 he repeatedly used the word "ban" in tweets about blocking entry to the United States to Muslims. But on Jan. 31 Spicer claimed the executive order was not a ban and that the media generated the word, not Trump — again, ample evidence to the contrary.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, "I dream of a world where the truth is what shapes people's politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true." In "Nineteen Eighty-Four," Winston inhabited the latter world. Spoiler alert — it does not end well.
Claire Noble can be found online at http://www.clairenoble.org and Claire Noble Writer on Facebook.
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