Department of Doublethink and Alternative Facts
While boasting of his election victory as historic in nature, President Donald Trump claimed 3 million people voted fraudulently on Nov. 8. You’d be scratching your head if you were not familiar with his speech routine. He has the capacity to hold two utterly contradictory beliefs simultaneously, and accept both of them at his convenience.
If you think that smacks of Orwell’s “doublethink,” you are not the only one who does. Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984” is our perennial reference each time we detect verbal excrement — like the slogan of the Ministry of Truth in Oceania: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”
The 68-year-old novel has become this week’s best-seller and its publisher, Penguin, reportedly ordered a 75,000 copy reprint.
The reemergence of “1984” was triggered by a series of doublethink, newspeak and purported fact-mutations that came out of the White House in the past couple of days since Trump’s inauguration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for example, attempted to convince members of the media that the swearing-in ceremony drew “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
Confronting the media’s challenge, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway told “Meet the Press”’ moderator Chuck Todd, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.
Orwell experts are prompted to compare the phrase “alternative facts” to “newspeak,” the euphemism for inverted meaning in “1984.”
Hmmm. “Sanity was statistical,” Orwell wrote. “It was merely a question of thinking as they thought.” The White House folks must hope that everyone would submit to their official version, like Winston Smith, who finally surrenders to the alternative fact, “Two and Two Make Five.”
Retaining as much purpose and relevance today as it was on its first publication in 1949, “1984” is cautionary tale of the horrors of totalitarianism that uses a political language “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Tim Crook, a communications professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, observed that Trump’s first days in office have been “an explosion of propagandist grapeshot.”
“But Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme, and if Orwell were alive today, I imagine Trump would amuse and horrify him at the same time,” Crook wrote in The Guardian. “The key message in 1984 is that the purpose of propaganda is to narrow and limit human consciousness, confuse human conscience, and control and narrow the range of thinking.” Newspeak — the seed of political correctness that Trump ironically claims to shun — attempts to eliminate personal thought by muddling the English language. “Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all,” Orwell wrote in the appendix to “1984” (which I was inspired to reread for the ninth time.)
Incidentally, “1984” couldn’t be more prescient under President Donald Duck. The list of Newspeak terms in “1984” includes “duckspeak,” which “can be either good or ungood, depending on who is speaking, and whether what they are saying is in following with the ideals of Big Brother.”
In Trump’s version of Oceania, “Defeat is Victory,” “Notoriety is Popularity,” “Reality TV is Reality.