“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
Many years ago, in the summer between graduating from St. Raymond’s Elementary School in the Bronx, NY and beginning high school at Fordham Prep I received a reading list that changed my world.
Fordham sent hundreds of book choices to its incoming freshmen…with the instruction to read any 30. That summer, from basketball court to beach, I went everywhere with a book. My view of the world and how it worked expanded beyond the bounds of Parkchester, the housing project where I grew up.
In today’s politics, three of those books stand out: 1984 and Animal Farm, written in 1945 and 1949 by George Orwell and Brave New World written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley. It’s 1984 that I find myself thinking most about today as I try to understand the confusion our recent election and the debasement of our electoral process.
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them.” Orwell, 1984
Destroying truth in favor of a chosen reality has been going on in our politics, talk radio, talk TV and the internet for many years now. if scientific proof is inconvenient, it can be replaced by voices repeated loudly and often. We have certainly seen that in the fight over protecting our environment. It occurs over and over in policy arguments. And, if a political argument is weak, character assassination is a convenient alternative.
“The party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” Orwell, 1984
In this environment, Donald Trump was not a surprise. He was a predictable outcome. The failure of the parties to produce – to work in compromise – allowed him to present himself as a strong man solution.
“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”
Early in the campaign, during the primaries, it was observed that Trump used his rallies and interviews to test his insults and lies. If they got a strong response – they were repeated often. For example, his assault on Ted Cruz…
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said Tuesday during a phone interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
If they did not catch with his audience, like a mocking of Bernie Sanders for a hernia operation, they were dropped.
Unlike Orwell’s Big Brother, whose lies required a systematic bureaucratic erasing of the truth, Trump ran his campaign as a one man show…say it loud, say it proud, mix it up with contradictions and convince people that only what you say matters…that you are the only solution. It’s the show that brings a new reality.
“Power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
So where does this take us?
There are two paths…
The first is that we will find that lying to 325 million people is different from cutting deals with individuals. The good people who believed in him will remember his words that came before and see them shifting as he takes power. They will reject his opportunism. The other good people who didn’t support him will continue to assert their democratic role. America will revert to the core values that brought it greatness through our imperfect union, an open and free society where people can honestly discuss their disagreements.
The other path is darker. We further cede our freedom to the person who said, “I alone can fix it.”‘
For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?” Orwell, 1984