An ungood reading of Orwell
George Orwell would be spinning in his grave if he could see the modern left’s recent attempts to link the dispute over the attendance at Trump’s inauguration with Orwellian dystopia and the misuse of language. This rather laughable idea is thinly based on Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” in describing the dispute over the crowd size at Trump’s inaugural and an apparent spike in sale of Orwell’s famous novel 1984.
The Washington Post has led the charge, with one of its reporters making the dubious connection on CNN, which was picked up by other left-leaning outlets and then memorialized in an above-the-fold piece in the Style Section by Post book critic Ron Charles. This is better explained by the left’s continuing apoplexy over Trump’s election than any actual similarity to the events depicted in Orwell’s book.
Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” was unfortunate, but hardly sinister, its focus – inaugural crowd size – extremely inconsequential. Had she simply said “we have different data” or ignored the issue, the left would have been stuck with comparing Trump to Hitler rather than Big Brother. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So now a silly slip of the tongue is tantamount to Orwell’s depiction of a crushing totalitarianism which forces people to believe that 2+2=5.
The additional “fact” that fuels this story is that a few thousand people (perhaps poorly educated leftists, but who knows?) bought the book on Amazon. This is also incredibly meaningless. Most likely the buyers are curious Millennials who no longer get 1984 in school so that they have time to read other “important” works like Toni Morrison’s sexually graphic Beloved.
Orwell (who died in 1950, not long after 1984 was published) was a man of the center-left, which is to say he would have been pretty much a mainstream conservative today. What he would have found frightening and insidious is the imposition of politically correct speech in the decades following his death. Since 1950, leftist politicians, academics, and reporters have imposed draconian codes, explicit and implicit, that have in fact become the totalitarian Newspeak that Orwell warned against.
Indeed, it is laughable for media outlets like the Post to compare Conway’s “alternative facts” to Orwell, when their own policies and practices mimic Orwellian Newspeak on a daily basis. The Post and other mainstream media outlets gleefully coined the term “White Hispanic” to describe George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. It incessantly warns of “climate change,” a politically charged neologism used to replace the discredited “global warming”; it uses the Newspeak term “denier” for someone who disagrees. The Post officially refuses to identify the name of the local NFL sports franchise, the Redskins, even though the supposed basis for the policy, that it is offensive to Native Americans, was twice proven false.
The left’s politically correct Newspeak is omnipresent and coercive, in ways that 1984’s hero Winston Smith would recognize: affirmative action a euphemism for racial preferences, replaced by diversity, which is the same thing; man-caused natural disaster is Islamic terrorism; the biological fact of sex becomes the social construct of gender; sensitivity training is politically correct Newspeak of political re-education, and so on. This list of politically correct terminology could come out of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, and it bears an unsurprising similarity to his fictional examples of totalitarian Newspeak.
Objecting to this Newspeak can cost a person his or her job, education, or liberty. We haven’t yet reached the point of putting people’s heads in cages with rats, but plenty of people have suffered under the tyranny of the left’s language police for decades now.
Of course, the great irony here is that Trump has been the enemy of political correctness and politically correct speech to an extent unprecedented in a major Western politician. So this effort to demonize him for Orwellian speech is itself Orwellian in both its motives and methods. By using a single innocuous poor word choice by a Trump aide, combined with the self-fulfilling conclusions of some undereducated liberal book purchasers, critics like Charles at the Post attempt to invert the truth with their own alternative facts.
Trump probably would not have been Orwell’s cup of tea, but I suspect he would have found Trump more amusing than dangerous. On the other hand, Orwell would have found his hyper-politically correct critics, including the preceding Obama administration, much more doubleplusungood.