George Orwell, Donald Drumpf, and American Politics

*Note– I’m getting political, and I’m getting very very personally political about one particular candidate. If this offends you, by all means skip it, tomorrow I’ll talk about kids or housecleaning or knitting or my writing schedule or something innocuous and non-irritating, I hope. Today, I’m getting mouthy about politics–and I apologize. I try to keep my flaming liberal flag out of sight most of the time, but… but dudes. It’s Drumpf, and he’s massacring the English language, and it offends me deeply.

*  *  *

So, last night we watched John Oliver’s Takedown of Drumpf (Donald Trump) and it was brilliant. So much to talk about– so very much I wanted to say about use of language, about reason, about Rogerian (if I remember correctly) debate.  Once– a long time ago– I wrote an essay for a Master’s Class talking about the pros and cons of Pokemon, and I disguised it as a conversation between me and Big T.  I got an A++ because it was both a Rogerian thesis (or whatever that word is, dammit!) and a satirical essay along the lines of A Modest Proposal, and I thought it said something important about parents spending too much time doing the wrong kind of parenting.

John Oliver’s piece was along the same lines– it was a Rogerian (please let that be the right phrase!) argument with a healthy dose of satire–but the point it made is unmistakable.

We cannot let passion or jingoism defeat the better part of ourselves.

I know it’s hard.

Critical thinking is hard– it takes a long time. I looked up Oliver’s show on the Washington Post (which lowers in my estimation every time I read it) and I saw three whines about how looooooonggg Oliver’s segment is. Oh my God. It was a 22 minute segment laying out an argument–based on the words of Drumpf’s supporters themselves–for why the man the American mob is planning to make a very powerful asshole out of someone who drops lies out of his mouth like spit.

The argument is flawless.  It is backed up with (wait for it) facts, often documented from Drumpf”s own words or the words of people close to him.

And the only response I’ve seen toward it is blatant hate speech (usually directed at John Oliver, who is so self-deprecating as to render anyone else’s attempts to slam him as useless and ignorant) or people screaming how great Drumpf is.

And I keep remembering two things, one of which seems totally random.

Remember Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Even if you do, you’ve probably forgotten the part where the camera is flashing to the seniors giving their presentation while we’re waiting for our heroes to get their shit and their time machine together to give theirs.  And one of the students giving his presentation is a “jock”, who is floundering.

“Like, it would all be the same. But different. Because of History. Because historical things. Make it different. Because… SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!!!”

Which for me is exactly what all of GOP politics has devolved into since Drumpf hit the scene. There is no Rogerian argument, there is no reasoned presentation, there is no sane approach to real issues. The only thing of substance being said is a promise to commit war crimes as a platform of foreign policy. (Yes, that really happened.)  And it’s horrible–because honestly, we expect our high school students to know better.  You all know that show, Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod Crane is forever quoting the great thinkers of the revolution?  We teach that shit in schools. And some of it really is knee-jerk sentiment and jingoism– but the good stuff, like, say, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are pretty solid pieces of reasoning. (Even the right to bear arms, although it’s been taken out of context for a century.)

The men who wrote those pieces–they would probably cede the country back to a king maddened by syphilis before they let somebody who “Knows lots of good words” become the leader of the country.

The other thing that sticks with me–and it’s the thing that scares me the most–is when Oliver looks at the camera and admits candidly that it can be “destabilizing” to have somebody lie with such obvious disregard for the fact that they are lying.  Oliver was talking about the fact that Drumpf told the world that Oliver had asked him to be on the show several times, and Drumpf had refused. Oliver said, “I actually asked my staff to make sure that had never happened.”

What he’s talking about is something that George Orwell feared to the bottom of his bones.

In 1984, Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth where he changes history. If the ministry has, in the past, asserted that Big Brother is in one place or held one position on something, and then a photograph or article comes to life that contradicts that, it’s Winston’s job to alter all of the news media in some way to make Big Brother right at all times.

The Ministry of Truth is, in fact, the place where politicians lie.

And people are so confused by the number of times that this happens that they simply believe the lie.

The Ministry of Truth is also responsible for eliminated words from the language–anything deemed too specific or too difficult to deal with is deleted from the language and thus so is the concept.

Words control ideas. Ideas are dangerous. As Orwell stated in his famous essay,  Politics and the English Language, the more meaningless a word is, the less people understand about words in general, the more general or abstract a word is, the easier it is for a politician to tell a lie that people will not question.  If a politician screams a lie loud enough, with enough force, people will eventually forget their own reasoning and simply accept what’s presented to them.

It’s terrifyingly easy to “destabilize” the truth.

I’ve had sociopaths lie to my face before. (Hasn’t every teacher?)  And even though we know it’s a lie, the sociopath has no remorse, no tell–by the time the lie leaves his or her lips, the sociopath is convinced it’s the truth.  Even concrete evidence will not convince them otherwise.

This is who is running for president, and a part of me is screaming at the world because I recognize he’s a sociopath and why can’t the rest of the world?

OKay– I’ll admit it. My neighborhood is pretty racially diverse–but I’ve overheard two conversations today in which Drumpf is the primary topic of conversation, and he’s getting votes.  And when I open my mouth and talk, and use phrases like “fascism” and “jingoism” and “lack of clear platform” I get blank stares. And I remember that when I was teaching, every time we faced a budget cut or another hoop to jump, I’d wonder if maybe the Republicans (and sorry, but they were usually the ones in charge of another hoop or a pay cut, or, hey, the idea that if a school didn’t have enough money they could just cut teaching hours at the end of the year) weren’t trying to make the population so ignorant that the fascists really could win.

And now we’re looking down the barrel of that possibly becoming fact.

I put a lot of stock in comedians as truth tellers in politics.  Satire is a difficult concept to grasp– the idea of social criticism through humor implies reading several layers of the spoken or written word, and it takes brains and word mastery to both do it and get it. I know that my son–who is getting better at it every day–had to study the concept long and hard and deep, because words are not his wheelhouse, and he badly wanted to know what layers of meaning he was missing out on when his father watched Futurama or The Simpsons. I used a sense of humor to gauge where to start pretesting my classes, and I was usually pretty right. If they laughed at a joke, they understood language. If they didn’t, we had some work to do. So when every comedian in the country comes down hard on someone, using the candidate’s own words, own actions, own discourse to condemn them not just as ignorant, but as sociopathic and evil, I listen.

And if there is no reasoned discourse to answer the satire, I listen for a voice to respond.


0 thoughts on “George Orwell, Donald Drumpf, and American Politics”

  1. Jen says:

    Thank you for this! You nailed it. And that reference to the football player's speech was spot on. I do feel more and more that I don't belong in the US. I just cannot comprehend people who support Drumpf – or any of the Republican candidates.

  2. I second everything you said. And I'm terrified. Heinlein was right (see his essays/predictions on the future); he just thought it would happen sooner…

  3. Emese says:

    I grew up in communism, and everything I see about the Republican campaign makes me sad, but Trump terrifies me. His whole behaviour reminds me of times I have hoped we left behind, and the possible future where the US is being led by him is an apocaliptic nightmare

  4. Amy says:

    My love for you just grew even further Amy. I have watched Oliver's video 5 times now, and forwarded it to more people than I can count. I just hope people will listen – and whichever candidate ends up the nominee on the Democratic side uses this against him. I still have belief (hope, faith) that people will listen and be turned off if enough of the lies – on top of the hatred and vile bigotry – and decide that isn't the kind of person they want leading our nation (not to mention having access to the nuclear codes). Now I just pray to whatever goddesses may be listening that I'm not wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *