This is What Orwell Trained You For
I know that it seems alarmist (and admittedly a bit generic) to describe the results of the Trump presidency as “Orwellian,” but hear me out. There are actually a lot of heavy parallels between the fictional writings of George Orwell and the actual reign of President? Trump (question mark intended). I'll explain.
It struck me in November of 2016 that re-reading 1984 and Animal Farm may be considered preparatory research. Watching the polls roll in while I was at work, it became apparent that Trump had it. If Clinton would've won, I suppose I could've just watched iRobot on VHS a couple of times, trying to get into the mind of a soulless robot gone sentient. That's what that movie's about, right? I don't think I've actually ever seen it. But I digress.
For those of you with an anemic bookshelf, George Orwell was a celebrated writer who specialized in all things dystopian. His two best known works are 1984 and Animal Farm, both full-scale literary classics. I would say that the rest of this article is a bit of a spoiler alert, but let's be honest; if you haven't read them by now, then they probably weren't high on your list anyway.
It seems that everyone is jumping straight to the 1984 comparison, which is fair. The biggest problem with using the pitfalls that occur in that particular book is that we didn't save it. Every time a low-level employee at the NSA farts in front of a monitor, the masses scream “There it is! Big Brother, man!” Now, don't get me wrong. Mass surveillance and data mining are both grievances that grossly undermine our civil liberties, but we should've used 1984 comparisons a little more sparingly over the years. Now that most of it's venom is drained, there's a much more poetic use for the novel against the administration.
While using 1984 as an indictment of mass-scale state surveillance is a logical conclusion, there are other much more pressing and hauntingly accurate assertions and comparisons to be made between the 1949 masterpiece and the Trump Administration.
Firstly, there's the portion of the plot that expresses that the financially elite members of the Inner Party are only after their own good, and couldn't give a shit less about the good of society as a whole. This is definitely not a new comparison when dealing with any group of politicians in modern history. But we've never seen anything as on the nose in the way of representing this concept as having the fucking CEO of ExxonMobil as the Secretary of State. They aren't even pretending that their tenure in office is anything more than a cash grab at this point.
Then the people in charge in the novel decide that it would be best to go ahead and rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record reflects the brilliance of the party. Ya know... Like 'alternative facts.'
The Inner Party, who controls all of the political dealings of Oceania (the fictional land that is the setting of the novel) consists of the top 2% of people who make up the wealthiest class. I guess it would be like if a billionaire donor was appointed to a top position in government having zero qualifications for the office that she was heading. For the sake of argument, let's say that someone's family gave millions of dollars to a particular party, and then that party put her in charge of public schools, despite the fact that she'd never so much as attended one. Something like that.
But I feel like Animal Farm Doesn't ever get the kind of play that it deserves when someone is trying to admonish a political sect for their absurd behavior. Let's fix that. 1984 needs a break, and Animal Farm is a more suited cautionary tale for our current direction anyway.
Before one of you know-it-alls chimes in with “Animal Farm was Orwell's parable about the dangers of Stalinist rule, so it already has a direct link to a political party!” just be aware that I fucking know that. That fact in no way disqualifies it from the discussion of the modern shit-show that's on display in The White House, so relax. We get it. You're smart. Now shut up.
Picture it. England. Year unspecified. Animal Farm is the story of a collection of animals living under the drunken rule of one Mr. Jones. After a rousing speech from one of the elder pigs, Old Major, the animals rise up and run Jones off, taking over what was once Manor Farm. Since Major was dead by the time of the rebellion, two living pigs volley for control. Napoleon and Snowball.
When Jones comes back with some men to retrieve control of his farm, it's Snowball who leads a retreat that turns into an attack. This action ensures that the animals retain control of the farm, and gives Snowball the status of a hero. It was he, after all, who managed the victory of the Battle of the Cowshed.
With his newly acquired renowned, Snowball tries to get all of the animals to build a windmill. The purpose of the windmill is to power the farm and ease the lives of the animals in residence. When he announces this idea, Napoleon has him run off by a pack of dogs.
The initial element that's striking is how easy it is for Napoleon to get the other animals to surrender control at the offset of the rebellion. He speaks well (Editor's Note: The similarities between Trump and Napoleon the pig aren't absolute), and rattles off populist ideas. This intrigues the animals who felt abandoned under the stewardship of Jones.
Another technique of Napoleon's is to distort the history that still hangs in the minds of the animals on the farm. It becomes the purview of Napoleon to convince his 'comrades' not to believe their lying minds. He uses his spokespig Squealer to spread absolute bullshit. Like the fact that Snowball wasn't a hero, and in fact had fled during the Battle of the Cowshed. Coward. Sad.
After the propaganda against Snowball's heroism begins, the next step is to make sure that any misfortune on the farm is blamed on the banished swine. After all, every villain needs a villain to create perspective. That's how the concept of “the lesser of two evils” stays in motion.
Then there's the matter of the Seven Commandments of Animalism, which are painted on the side of the barn. These began as a set of standards that were agreed upon by the group. But all of the sudden the animals seemed to be mis-remembering these articles. After Napoleon slaughtered a number of creatures who had confessed betrayal to him, the un-slaughtered faction of the menagerie, feeling that a law had been violated, referred to the wall. But where they recalled the commandment being “No animal shall kill another animal,” the wall said that “No animal shall kill another animal without cause.” Once the pigs started sleeping in beds, the other animals recalled the commandment “No animal shall sleep in a bed” When they went to check on that one, the wall said “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets. So, either they had all recollected crucial orders of the group incorrectly, or the rule had been changed to favor the offending ruling party.
As time marches on, the once seemingly populist Napoleon begins changing the rules more and more to benefit himself and his fellow pigs, while all of the remaining animals on the farm toil and starve, all the while believing that their labor is to benefit the society.
At the end of the book, Napoleon and the other pigs are discovered to be marching upright, something that was forbidden as a key tenant of Animalism, seeing as walking on four legs was the commonality of all of the animals. The pigs had seized power, and then revealed their true selves once that power was completely secured, and had even secretly created an alliance with the neighboring farmers, sworn enemies of the animal class. Do you see were this little book report is going?
The fact of the matter is that these 70 plus year old novels seem to be eerily resonate of the current state of politics in America. DeVos, Tillerson, Mnuchkin, Bannon, and all of the other sycophant donors who have found themselves in power are today's Squealers. Trump is like a fucked up amalgamation of Big Brother and Napoleon, desiring the control of the output of information by insisting that all unfavorable news is as fake as his orange hue, and relying on the ignorance of his supporters for license to change the rules as it benefits him (and, less importantly, his ilk). He's already walking on his hind legs, which I'm sure is difficult for someone who's so used to getting on all fours for every billionaire dumb enough to cut him a check.
While the term 'Orwellian' has been beaten virtually impotent from it's considerable over use, it's not always hyperbole. We're living in an era that echoes every standard bit of political corruption that has appalled most of us for decades, but it's a much more reckless version. We needed an upset in the halls of government. We needed to take the power back for the people. That's not what this is. This is change for the sake of change, and it's change for the absolute worst. This is a brick through our own window. This is a mistake, and we should be better than the overflowing barrel of lunatics that is currently pretending to represent us.