In the weeks following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the United States has found itself falling squarely into the crosshairs of a malevolent cliché. Since it was written, George Orwell’s novel 1984 has been the literary measure upon which a society is gauged with respect to freedom and the rights of its citizens particularly those who consider people more than mere raw material to be utilized by a state, the converse of which is a state that claims total control over not only the actions of its citizens but also their thoughts. Like in Orwell’s novel, the people are increasingly not only oppressed and controlled through the means by which they interpret reality, but they are glad of these chains, accepting a sort of intellectual serfdom willingly and without hesitation. The most wicked of despotisms, the oppression of the mind’s most essential faculties – reason – is precisely where we find ourselves at this very moment.
To the surprise and dismay of many, this suppression of reality and the open repetition of falsehoods which can be easily disproved, not by arduously obtained or peer-reviewed evidence, but by simple photographs or even basic critical thinking, seems to be working on many of the president’s supporters. This phenomenon can be observed in the liberal sphere as well, such as Hillary Clinton’s campaign statements regarding Senator Bernie Sanders during the primary elections, which included the assertions that he did not support the Paris Climate Agreement and that he was a reliable member of the NRA. It seems, however, that their use of hyperbole and unabashed fabrication is much less endemic than it is on the political right.
While it is a widely held belief that anyone with liberal leanings assumes that people are racist, bigoted, sexist or homophobic for casting a Trump vote, that is oftentimes not the case, although there certainly exists a vitriolic subset of modern liberals who tend to denounce the moral character of conservatives based on the vote they cast. The criticism of an ideology or set of policies is not necessarily a discrimination against the persons who align with them. In the words of Johann Hari, a columnist for The Independent, “I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.”
Similar to the members of the Outer Party of Oceania, the state ruled by Big Brother in Orwell’s novel, Trump’s supporters are the victims of a system that seeks to control their reality. A clear example of how far reaching this control is can be seen in the statements Trump made during his campaign, such as when he said that there were Muslims celebrating 9/11 on the rooftops of buildings in New Jersey while the towers were still smouldering. This remark was a hideous manipulation of the truth based on nothing more than a stereotype taken to the extreme so as to fuel the hatred already felt by his base toward Muslims. Or the repeated use of false claims that violent crime is at an all-time high in the United States, another baseless assertion designed to stoke the flames of populism. Like the members of this fictitious super state, the president’s supporters have been marshalled into a false sense of security, believing entirely, no matter the evidence to the contrary, that their leader is infallible.
We sat down with Dr. Jesse Klein, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, who had some light to shed on this particular phenomenon:
“Just like with Oceania, we are not meant to know the things that happened to get Trump to where he is. A lot of speculation is happening, and that is meant to fragment the audience further, meant to fragment voters and divide the people.”
Working off the tried and true method of divide and conquer, the Trump administration has filled the airwaves with propaganda specifically crafted to deepen the already abyssal trenches that have fractured the people of the United States. These divisions and the eagerness for people to believe an authority without any further skepticism are what researchers like Dr. Klein consider to be the first stepping stones that led to Trump’s election:
“This [willingness to believe information without evidence] doesn’t just happen because Kellyanne Conway says the wrong thing in an interview and then half of the people believe it and the other half just doesn’t There is a long history of fighting against a structure of intellectualism and fact in this country.”
According to Dr. Klein, this is something that can be seen in most populist rhetoric and is essential for gaining the kind of support a person needs to win elections in this fashion – a more concentrated form of gaslighting than any ever before seen in the United States.
“Set an entire part of the population apart from yourself, ‘I’m with you, I’m part of your contingent, I’m not them.’”
‘Them’ being the intellectual elite, scientists, historians, writers, and sociologists who are attempting to seek only truth. These are the people who became the perfect target of the American right-wing to gather their loyal support against. Of course, this is not at all unlike the perpetual conflicts seen in 1984, where the intense othering of their enemies was essential for maintaining control over the people. It seems clear to everyone not spellbound by these grandiose claims and manipulations of reality that the supporters of Trump all have, to some degree, animosity toward intellectualism.
“[The intellectual elite] are oppressing you, ‘they’ represent something snobbish and superior that you will never be able to access, ‘they’ represent not truth, but this kind of moral righteousness that is apart from moral righteousness seen in religion.”
It is fascinating to see how receptive Trump’s supporters really are to this line of thinking he has perpetuated. When scientists, researchers, journalists, and the “coastal elites” who are seen as disconnected from the “real Americans” attempt to make any changes or improvements in society, these attempts are perceived as being a threat to their traditionally understood way of life. The recoiling from progress and this fear of shedding traditional beliefs is what leads to the massive attacks on objective reality. Attacks that don’t stem from reasoned counter-arguments, but ones that are produced by unalterable belief structures which lent themselves to the elevation of the Trump Administration.
“In the 1980s we see the Republican party base become combined with the Christian Evangelical base, who had already spent several decades distancing themselves from the elite intellectuals and science to guide the policy of the Republican party, and then it’s not about facts anymore.”
Orwell makes a point to refer to science in 1984 when he says, “The empirical method of thought, on which all scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc.” One need only replace the Oceanian government of “Ingsoc” with “Evangelical Christianity” and all comparisons are made clear by their own account. This is where the truly sinister inner workings of this administration start rising to the surface.
“Ultimately, it’s about the power of the message and if you tie the power of the message to a supreme deity and then you back it up with money, politicians, and laws, you don’t need facts anymore.”
‘Not needing facts’ is perhaps a good mantra for the Trump White House. This administration’s willingness to propagate and even swear by outright falsehoods is merely a product of this underlying mentality which most religious Americans have been exposed to for years. That extraordinary beliefs without extraordinary evidence can be deemed “truth” if a figure of authority says it is, is a testament to the incredible value of religion as a method of thought control.
Contradicting objective reality has been delegated to the administration’s version of the Ministry of Truth. For the last eight years the Fox News Channel has been the loudspeaker through which the far right has been broadcasting its carefully crafted version of reality. Most notably the Birther Movement, which was spurred on by Donald Trump himself. By pushing the unfounded claim that President Obama was a secret Muslim born in Kenya, it strengthened the impenetrable fact shield that deflected even the actual copies of the president’s birth certificate. This left an unsettling number of people on the far right with a demonstrably false understanding of reality. It is clear that while this would obviously be a ridiculous assertion if uttered from a crackpot on a street corner, when it is given the title of “breaking news” it is disseminated as such.
Now there is Sean Spicer and the army of Trump surrogates like Kellyanne Conway who have been busy implementing a brand of doublethink on the American population- a distillation of what Fox News has been perpetuating, which has striking similarity to the kind found in Oceania. This process of, as Orwell puts it, “telling deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies,” is essential to the function of the Trump White House.
This method, coupled with the already established system of unquestioning concurrence that was fostered by Evangelicalism, has given Trump and his administration the green light for an all-encompassing mind management campaign. Those who have unwittingly sworn allegiance to this regime have made it understood that the word of a madman with power is worth more than the multitudes who have yet to forsake reason and independent thought. This could evolve into complete totalitarian control, made possible by the willingness of so many to capitulate to the will of non-reason. History has shown that this process of vilifying scholars and intellectuals who seek to question the nature of things is a dark shadow that has followed civilization through the centuries. Socrates was poisoned with hemlock for blasphemy, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for contemplating an infinite universe, Galileo was held under house arrest for his defense of an observation, and scores of others had their great works gathered and burned for the crime of seeking rational truths.
Trump has done what all autocrats are guilty of: preying on the people’s faith, and indeed their ignorance, as a means to alter their perception of reality and have them submit completely to his will. Soon we will all bear witness to the fruits of this ominous labor, but until then it will remain just speculation. The late author and steadfast opponent of all forms of totalitarianism, Christopher Hitchens once said, “You should not be in the dictatorship business if you don’t utilize the deep well of religious credulity and servility that is present.”