Trump and the Impossible Reality that 1984 Exists in 2016
y Ikbal S. Ahluwalia (High School Student in NJ)
In 1948, George Orwell imagined a dark, authoritarian future for the world in his novel 1984 —- a world without civil liberties, freedom of thought and expression, and honesty. In the novel, dishonesty manifests itself as the manipulation of language that the Inner Party uses to control the population of Oceania. A major form of this occurs as doublethink, a paradoxical phrase or idea that manipulates citizens’ thoughts, allowing the government of Oceania to robotize citizens like Winston and control their thoughts. Even today, “reality control” or “doublethink” is relevant in the politics of our modern governments and elected representatives and how they influence voters. Although people may believe that doublethink, disguises, and injustice exist exclusively in authoritarian or communist nations like China and North Korea, Orwell’s beliefs about the power of language and its ability to manipulate the general public have a direct parallel to Trump’s ability to convince voters with doublethink-like messages. The ability to manipulate language to a politician’s benefit, the power of an overwhelming and unyielding group of supporters, and the opaque facade of the government envisioned in Orwell’s 1984 has an uncanny resemblance to our modern day “democracy” and the politicians who strive to be at its head. The Inner Party and O’Brien used doublethink to create homogeneous and unthreatening ideas among their citizens. In 1984, O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, used doublethink after recognizing Winston’s negative sentiments towards the party and his increasingly frequent and potent thoughtcrimes. Winston’s dangerous views and his dedication to even join Goldstein’s insurgent group convinced O’Brien to take him to Room 101 and reverse his beliefs. In Room 101, Winston reflected, “If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens” (278). Although Winston initially recovered from O’Brien’s doublethink attacks, he eventually succumbed to O’Brien’s pressure. While Orwell’s last words show that Winston “had won the victory over himself” and that “he loved Big Brother” (298), the important take-away is the power that O’Brien wielded through the manipulation of words and thought. By ultimately causing Winston to betray Julia in Room 101 and accept Big Brother, O’Brien changed Winston’s fundamental beliefs and created yet another average citizen of Oceania. At the conclusion of the novel, Winston was like most other citizens in Oceania, unable to question what they saw and accepting of the different forms of doublethink around them. Quite similarly, Trump gains supports by rallying them around a cause of making America work again, one again, first again, safe again, and, of course, great again. He uses generic statements that appeal to a wide voter base without really saying anything of substance. Furthermore, he has contradicted himself and changed his personal views to suit the political climate. Despite saying he was pro-choice in 1999 but pro-life in 2011, claiming to be a Democrat in 2004 but Republican in 2015, labeling politicians as “all talk and no action” and saying he is “not a politician” in summer 2015, but then changing the same year and saying that he is “no different than a politician running for office,” he continues to gain support. Trump claims to fight for the middle-class and reduce taxes for small-business owners, yet he himself has avoided income taxes since 1995. Additionally, Trump says that people in America do not “win” economically, yet he says he has experienced a rags-to-riches story achieving the elusive American Dream. Furthermore, he claims global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but his hotel in Ireland cited global warming as its justification for wanting coastal protection. Although these paradoxes may seem humorous, the fact that these distortions of reality have received support in our modern, 2016 democracy is shocking. His support, in large part, comes from polarized citizens voting strictly for the Republican Party. Trump does not gain supporters through transparency, policy or character. Instead, he and the Inner Party both derive their support from chauvinism, xenophobia and silencing of opposition. The Inner Party of Oceania also uses its doublethink to control citizens and create hostile views towards Eurasia and Eastasia in an identical fashion to the role xenophobia plays in this election. Americans easily rally around the fear of the unknown and the fear that foreigners are stealing their jobs. On October 9, 2016, Michael Luo, a New York Times editor, was told to “Go back to China” while walking in New York City. Additionally, Trump’s call for the barring of Muslims to enter the United States —- and his ability to stay in the presidential race after that statement —- shows how much fear dominates the political climate in 2016. In 1984, Winston observes “All [the citizens’] ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners” (24). He also realizes it is “necessary to [the Party’s] structure that there should be no contact with foreigners” because if citizens were allowed contact, they would “discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what [they have] been told about them is lies” (196). In order to keep the citizens energized and maintain control, the Inner Party builds national beliefs on fear, limited knowledge and lies. Today, a lack of transparency is part of the quintessential Trump profile: a “foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS” only known to his mind because he does not “want the enemy to know what [he’s] doing” (Fox News, 2015), a complete shutdown of Muslim immigrants, and “extreme-vetting” of refugees all in the name of keeping America safe. In Orwellian doublethink fashion, Trump incites fear in the unknown and his rhetoric contradicts facts: America was founded to accept the religiously persecuted and only three refugees since 9/11 were linked to terrorism out of the 784,000 that have been admitted (Migration Policy Institute, 2015). By propagating false ideas, Trump convinces voters of doublethink: white voters’ descendants are not dangerous, but Muslim and Middle-Eastern immigrants are because of their background. In all democratic elections, no candidate is ever perfect and, in this age of political polarization and tense political landscapes, finding something that unites voters in this increasingly diverse country is challenging. In 1984, the Inner Party managed to homogenize Winston and the rest of Oceania through authoritarian ministries and hostility towards other nation-states. In 2016, certain candidates take advantage of voters and have used “doublethink” to unite almost half the country behind ignorance, fear, anger and faulty logic. While candidacies like Trump’s highlights the pressing discontent in Americans, it also shows a dangerous side of American society and makes us question just how democratic the world’s most powerful champion of democracy really is. Trump’s victory on November 8th cannot solely be attributed to racial or bigoted voters, but it has done two things: legitimized xenophobic remarks and actions, and revealed the vast discontent across the country. While Trump’s proposed ideas —- like the wall, banning immigration of Muslims, and surveilling mosques —- and his rhetoric may have all been a demagogic approach to being elected, his victory has empowered people who can relate to it, even in the few days after. On November 10, a Wellsville, New York softball field was branded with a swastika and the graffitied dugout read “Make America White Again.” Even with a Republican President that advocated racist policies, and a Republican Congress and soon-to-be Republican Supreme Court, Trump’s rhetoric will not be acted upon in the government. However, this same rhetoric created a sense of entitlement across the country that grants common citizens to say or do anything regardless of the consequences.