There are a lot of reasons to be afraid of the new president; just look at the things he’s done in his first week: announced the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, shut down any media that criticized him, announced he is going to renegotiate NAFTA, and most recently, imposed an executive order banning refugees from entering the United States. And while all these things are absolutely terrifying, the most terrifying might be the classification of “alternative facts.” Why? Because of the way it reflects the events of the book 1984 by George Orwell.
The Term Orwellian
Though the term “Orwellian” is often used to describe an authoritarian government, used as a catch-all for things that people dislike about the government, the actual meaning is much more complicated. The term “Orwellian” is much more complex than just an authoritarian government; instead of just referring to how a government is structured, “Orwellian” refers to something even more basic: language.
The term “Orwellian” refers to the way that the government uses language in order to make a population more compliant, more ready to believe the lies that the government is spinning. This act of language manipulation is clearly see in 1984 in two distinct ways: the act of doublespeak and Newspeak.
Doublespeak is deliberately ambiguous language that undermines the actual meaning of the word. For example, in 1984, many of the slogans that are enforced by the government submit messages to make the population more compliant, like “ignorance is strength.” Newspeak is the new language that the government is actively creating, cutting out words to “diminish the range of thought.” In Oceania, the government has complete control over the language, and thus complete control over its people.
Orwell and Trump
After Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway called Trump’s claims about crowd size at the inauguration “alternative facts,” sales of 1984 soared. And for good reason. This claim illustrates the exact things that Orwell was warning against in his book. Trump and his administration are re-writing and pushing against facts that are easily verified, like the crowd size at the inauguration.
In fact, Trump was actively doing this throughout his entire campaign, exaggerating and spouting facts that are clearly not true. And he hasn’t stopped since becoming president. From his voting fraud allegations to his “landslide” victory in the election, Trump’s versions of the truth are eerily reminiscent of the ways that the government of Oceania re-writes history almost daily.
In addition to re-writing facts, Trump’s order of a media blackout is another way that he is spreading the “alternative facts.” By issuing a media blackout for the Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Trump is enforcing his version of the facts: that global warming doesn’t exist. And anyone who actively and publicly goes against him is immediately shut down. Sound familiar? The same thing happens in 1984. Any hint of rebellious activity and you disappear. Like any good dystopia.
The parallels between 1984 and Trump’s presidency are terrifying, but they illustrate the importance of reading and actively being educated in what is happening in the world around you. Trump needs to know that we’re watching his every move and that we won’t just sit by complacently while he creates hate and turmoil with each and every action.
Make your voice heard. Call your representatives. Educate yourself. March. Protest. By standing together, we can stand against the hate and bigotry that the Trump administration stands for. In the words of President Obama, “Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”