February 15, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online
By Hanne Nijtmans
President Trump’s mode of communication has led to some serious concerns. His tendency to announce his plan on Twitter first restrains his explanations to a mere 140 characters, while presumably the plans of the President should be more complicated than that, shouldn’t they? The point, however, when the President’s communication became problematic is when Sean Spicer presented false facts, which were exposed by the media, and Kellyanne Conway described those statements as “alternative facts.” This is when my alarm bells started ringing at full blast.
After the statements from Spicer and Conway, the sale of Orwell’s famous book Nineteen Eighty-Four rose to unprecedented heights and saw an increase of more than 6000 percent. Why is this book so relevant, and why are there so many comparisons between Orwell’s totalitarian regime and Trumps early administration? The significance of Orwell’s book and it’s totalitarian regime are to a large extent based on the power of language. “Newspeak” is the dominant language in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a severe simplification of English that serves (in Orwell’s words) to “provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [the ruling party’s ideology –red.], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” Newspeak lacks the complexity to think deeply about issues and makes it almost impossible to critically reflect on the Government’s actions. The way Trump uses Twitter with major simplifications and ideas opposing to what we perceive as facts, in combination with his refusal to ever admit that he is wrong, resembles Orwell’s concept of Newspeak. Trump’s policies, strong words, and use of language can in some other ways also be compared to ideologies and actions of the totalitarian government in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
WAR IS PEACE
One of the three pillars that are on the base of all propaganda by the “Party” in Nineteen Eighty-Four is “War is Peace.” This seemingly contradictory phrase is invented by the party to encourage “doublethink” which is accepting a premise as truthful, depending on what the party wants to do with this. In Nineteen Eighty-Four war is peace is used to invoke nationalism and to unify the country itself against a common enemy. While Orwell’s totalitarian government tries to keep the country together to create a common fear for “the enemy” and the people who live there have a daily session of “two minutes of hate,” Trump does basically the same thing as he refers to foreign countries as “the enemy.”
His most controversial policies such as the Muslim ban and the wall with Mexico are filled with hostile rhetoric. He, in his words, has imposed these measures to “keep the bad people out.” These can either be “terrorists” or “bad hombres,” but the point is that those people are supposedly enemies of the United States. He engages in hateful language when he literally named Mexicans rapists and murderers, and he has created more hate and fear in the country. However, it would be too early to say that Trump will declare wars to maintain peace, but his tweets about Iran can mean no good.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, “Freedom is Slavery” because those who think and act independently are doomed to fail. The Trump administration shows these same characteristics as Donald Trump has created a rhetoric that denounces everyone that disagrees with him. It seems as if he tries to supply information what he sells as the only facts. The fact that he denounces the media and the press as “against him” leads him to rely on his “own” facts, which could also be described as “the fantastic actions and adventures in the world of Trump.” John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight” argues that Trump’s reality is based on ill-researched television shows (such as Infowars & Breitbart News) or the very conservative and biased Fox News. When he randomly talks about numbers which seem to appear out of thin air, he is convinced of his own reality and so are his voters. For example, when he announced that he won the popular vote due to “millions of illegal voters” and “serious voter fraud” in California. All of those who debunk his ideas about how fantastic he is are fired or discredited. The media are accused of “false news” now almost on a daily basis by President Trump, and the judge who ruled against the Muslim ban is a “so-called” judge.
In the totalitarian regime of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government has an absolute control over the news and the Party describes the only true beliefs and identity. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it goes so far that citizens would actually believe that two plus two equals five, if the government would say so. This seems like a far stretch to Trump, but Trump lied even about the weather on his Inauguration day and the amount of people that showed up, while there is visual evidence that he lies.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the party slogan “Ignorance is Strength” is based on the fact that the less the people know, the less they will contradict the Party. The authoritarian government goes as far to hear and see everything what the inhabitants think as “thought crime” and people are caught, imprisoned, and tortured for that.
Luckily, in the United States, the checks and balances system as well as the Constitution and it’s very first amendment protect the American citizens from this fate, but the words “Ignorance is Strength” could be easily applied to Trump. Trump himself is quite ignorant, as he admitted that he did not read the Constitution (as four thousand words was too long for him) and he is the least qualified President in the history of the US. His supporters apparently do not care about his lack of knowledge, on the contrary: it proves his distance from the established politics. Nonetheless, now that he is the President, he does not allow any criticism: all who have an opposing view are removed from his administration.
Orwell warns us that the “abuse of language” can happen in all democratic societies as advertisements, political soundbites, and the media are not only influencing our thoughts but also our behavior. The overly simplified and abusive language of President Trump and his attacks on the media, judges, colleagues, and the entire democratic system in the United States is to some extent predicted by Orwell. Who controls our thoughts and behaviors can control the world.
Want to know more about Orwell and his social critique? There is an interesting TEDxEd video link below, and I would recommend you to (re-)read Nineteen Eighty-Four as it is more relevant today than it has been for the past decades.