By Arnold Dodge
In the dystopian world created by George Orwell for his novel 1984, a tyrannical force is at work, controlling the masses by controlling reality. A mind-numbing distortion of what people see, hear and feel is enforced by a campaign of treachery. Opposites become the order of the day: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. These are the slogans repeated ad nauseam by the people in power.
The rise of Hitler in Germany and Stalin in the Soviet Union had fueled Orwell’s mounting hatred of totalitarianism and political authority. His book came out in 1949 as the Cold War was hitting its stride.
The arsenal of diabolical methods Orwell envisioned to sustain this nightmarish society re-appears in the campaign playbook of the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in 2016. While Donald Trump is in the bluster phase—insults, taunts, bullying, harangues—can you imagine a Trump presidency with the gloves off? Can you imagine what we will witness if this megalomaniac is elected? It is not inconceivable that someone will read 1984 to Trump, and he will be in thrall to the success of the approach and borrow liberally from the techniques.
Democracy be damned. The Donald has arrived.
We have gotten to know the stripe of Trump: his misogyny, his xenophobia, his race-baiting, his lies, his distortions, his manipulations, his power obsession, his threats, his bellicose rants, not to mention his ability to say one thing with conviction and in the very same speech contradict himself with equal conviction.
Trump is beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed on the American political stage, and that includes the likes of Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace—and maybe even David Duke.
Trump’s terrifyingly large and feverish following in the American electorate should give pause to any who believe that he cannot win in November. Tyrants ’round the world were first dismissed as part of the lunatic fringe. With the prospect of Donald Trump strolling up to the podium on the Capitol steps to deliver his inaugural address, maybe we should turn to Orwell’s imagination for advice.
The samplings below are features of Orwell’s grotesque new world of 1984 cobbled together from several sources, including his original text. The comments in italics are strictly this author’s fear becoming palpable.
Doublethink: the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true. Doublethink refers to the ability to control your memories, to choose to forget something, as well as to forget about the forgetting process. People ultimately lose the ability to form independent thoughts. Eventually, it becomes possible to convince the public of anything, even if it’s the exact opposite of what the public already knows to be true.
Trump could teach Orwell a thing or two about doublethink—he has mastered the art.
Thought Police: a police organization devoted to uncovering thoughts—known as thoughtcrimes—that are not in keeping with the goals of the Party (the all-powerful state). The Thought Police could and eventually would arrest any citizen with any thought contrary to blind obedience to Big Brother.
A fanciful notion? Perhaps, but Trump might just direct the CIA to develop a thought-police unit, firing the director when he fails in his mission.
Newspeak aims to narrow the range of thought to render thoughtcrime impossible. If there are no words in a language that are capable of expressing independent, rebellious thoughts, no one will ever be able to rebel. The Party insists that it has the right to declare that 2 + 2 = 5, thereby making the claim to total control over every aspect of reality. The party could cancel gravity if it should wish.
Trump will no doubt trot out Sir Isaac Newton’s birth certificate exposing that he was not born in the U.S. Gravity? Cancelled.
The Ministry of Love (as described through the eyes of Winston, Orwell’s main character): “The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine-gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons”
The White House after a Trump makeover.
Hate Week referred to staged events intended to increase hatred for the opposing party. Here’s how the novel describes one occurrence: “A member of the Inner Party…contorted with hatred…gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other…clawed the air menacingly above his head. His voice, made metallic by the amplifiers, boomed forth an endless catalogue of atrocities, massacres, deportations, lootings, rapes, torture of prisoners, bombing of civilians, lying propaganda, aggressions, broken treaties. It was almost impossible to listen to him without being first convinced and then maddened. At every few moments the fury of the crowd boiled over and the voice of the speaker was drowned by a wild beast-like roaring that rose uncontrollably from thousands of throats…”
There’s no difference here between Orwell’s vision and coverage of a Trump rally. It takes your breath away.
In the afterword of the 1962 edition, Erich Fromm, the distinguished psychologist, sociologist and philosopher, had this to say about Orwell’s classic:
“If the world of 1984 is going to be the dominant form of life on this globe, it will mean a world of madmen, and hence not a viable world. [Orwell] wants to warn and to awaken us…The hope can be realized only by recognizing, so 1984 teaches us, the danger of a society of automatons who will have lost every trace of individuality, of love, of critical thought, and yet who will not be aware of it because of ‘doublethink.’”
So there you have it. Trump convinces us daily that we are on the road to an Orwellian nightmare.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Orwell’s genius provides a wake-up call for those who ignore tyranny knocking at the door. It’s high time we confront the ugliness. Our tolerance, forgiveness and love for others are under assault, weaponized by hate, threats and twisted logic in an attempt to co-opt reality.
We must never forget that the human race is one family.
But let’s watch out for Big Brother.
Arnold Dodge, PhD, is an associate professor of education at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, where he serves as the chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration. Dr. Dodge is a former teacher, principal and superintendent. In his 45th year in education, he is particularly focused on the effects of high-stakes testing on schools.
(Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons License)