Every Foothill Technology High School freshman reads this book and notes its starting tone; the “bright, cold” day, the ominous thirteen the clock strikes as Winston enters the glass doors of the Victory Mansions, and the smell like “boiled cabbage and old rag mats.” The impression is immediately one of a dystopian society, ruinous with decay.
Unlike other books whose legacies are lost under the relentless wear of time, “1984” is a haunting vision of the world that tightens its hold on our imagination with every passing day. The world of Oceania has stunned readers with its frighteningly accurate insight into the path modern society may be heading, with its parallels of totalitarian government, distortion of reality, etc.
Today the small seeds of Orwellian concepts have grown into young saplings, and taken deep root in modern society. “1984” is prophetic even, especially when many of the concepts it explores seem closely connected to America today.
The most obvious of these parallels is the mutability of fact. President Trump falsely claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast against him and his administration made unfounded allegations that Trump’s inauguration had record attendance. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, infamously coined the false number as “alternative facts,” as opposed to the actual statistics. Such a politically euphemistic term inescapably relates itself back to the “Newspeak” of “1984.” In his 1987 book “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” Trump expressed his belief in the “truthful hyperbole,” which the book demurely described as an “innocent exaggeration.”
In reality, it is the mutation of truth. As Winston notes in “1984,” “the Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Because no one really knows what the real statistics are, the government is able to exercise terrifying control over the people. Oceania’s Party always produces fabulous statistics that suggest the world is only getting better and better; more chocolate rations, clothes and houses. People swallow bizarre and contradicting information with the “stupidity of animals.”
Due to these “alternative facts,” uncertainty becomes the norm and the truth no longer matters because falsehoods are simply substituted for other falsehoods until what was “truth” no longer matters because there was never truth in the first place. In fact, Winston wonders to himself whether he is the only person “in possession of a memory.” The complete lack of objection to government policy, or rather the removal of objection is something which also characterizes Oceania and America today. By declaring war on the media, and denouncing reporters whose job is to report real facts as “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” Trump has sought to instate lack of objection, taking our nation one step closer to an Orwellian future people have feared for decades.
The political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, such as Trump’s repetitions of terms like “radical Islamic terrorism” and other egregious statements, most certainly played a role in the surge of anti-Muslim acts and anti-Semitic acts, and saw a rise in anti-Muslim hate groups. While terrorist attacks fueled the increase in Islamophobia during his campaign, Trump not only accepted the support of the KKK, he decidedly lacked speed in condemning hate and addressing restrictive immigration, which as a president, he undoubtedly influences. The prevalence of hate is reminiscent of the Oceanian Two Minutes Hate, where the government stirs the people into an experience Orwell described as “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer.” In “1984,” the rage is an undirected emotion that can flit from object to object, but manipulating the rage “turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic” is something the government takes full advantage of. Trump’s administration should demonstrate they will not tolerate bigotry and hatred, and is unwilling to prey on anti-Semitism, racism and sexism, rather than seemingly using it to his advantage.
During his presidential campaign, Trump’s populism appealed to the resentment of different groups, stereotyping Mexicans as “rapists,” and promising to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism.” As to sexism, his back-handed complimenting and irreverence of women approaches a “1984” attitude where women are social inferiors expected to be part of the “Junior Anti-sex League” and typified as chaste, as they are apparently morally less susceptible to corruption and thus, the only gender allowed in Pornosec.
The growing alignment of our world and Oceania’s doesn’t belong solely to the Trump administration. During Obama’s term, Snowden leaked that the surveillance of the National Security Administration on American citizens was massive and more extensive than anyone had thought. Monitored citizens, wiretapping, collection of phone records, etc.; it calls to mind a distinctly Orwellian state where absolutely nothing is private and Big Brother is always watching…
It doesn’t take much for the government to cross the line between controlling and enslaving. Will we wake up one day and find out the world we live in and the one Orwell dreamed up are really the same?
Similarly, in Europe, elections have been continued with subpar candidates. Geert Wilders, one of the former candidates for the Netherland elections, had been understorm for “fake news.” Wilders is reclusive, rarely campaigning in person, but omnipresent on social media: a second Big Brother. Following Trump’s own heart, Wilders’s populism preys on anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiment. He has also been criticized for inciting discrimination against certain ethnic groups. In France, Marine Le Pen is anti-immigration, and demonstrated a wish to withdraw France from the European Union. Combined with Brexit, the European Union could collapse. As a political and economic union that regulates the international welfare of so many states, its death would plunge Europe into chaos. Not only is America evolving into its own “Oceania,” it has “Eurasia” as its counterpart. With all these factors compounded together, the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.
Featured Image Credit: Maya Avelar