Just over one year ago on Jan. 25, 2017, The New York Times reported that sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 had increased by a whopping 9,500 percent since President Donald Trump’s inauguration the week prior. The New York Times author drew connections between false statements made by the president as well as his staff and the word “doublethink,” which is the “newspeak” word coined for “reality control” by the novel’s totalitarian entity known as “the Party.” After a full year of Trump’s “alternative facts” and the knee-jerk reactions against his boorish abrasiveness, it is worthwhile to look back over the year 2017 and see if we really are living in an Orwellian nightmare.
The book 1984 follows the life of Winston Smith, a low-level member of the Party who works in the paradoxical Ministry of Truth, which is the governmental agency in charge of whitewashing history, disseminating false information and deifying Big Brother, the figurehead of the Party. The middle-aged Smith is one of the only people in the vast nation of Oceania who still remembers life before the Party and its totalitarian doctrine of IngSoc, or English Socialism. This makes Smith one of the only people capable of contradicting the Party’s false historical claims—one of the only somewhat free minds left in Oceania.
The most frightening accomplishment of the Party—and the most frightening end many contemporary American politicians appear to be striving for—is the stripping of the people’s ability to think for themselves. The power of doublethink is the power to convince oneself that a known and blatant lie is not only true, but has always been and always will be the only truth. Most terrifying of all is that those who can convince others to use doublethink become truly omnipotent.
The most obvious example of American politicians employing doublethink is the Trump Administration’s use of “alternative facts.” On the first full day of the Trump presidency, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the blatant lie that the crowd attending President Trump’s inauguration was the largest in history and accused the media of intentionally lying to the American people about this “fact.” Several days later, then-advisor Kellyanne Conway defended this false claim on NBC’s Meet the Press by describing Spicer’s statements as “alternative facts.” While Chuck Todd did not buy what Conway was trying to sell, millions of the president’s supporters have done so due to doublethink.
Looking across the political aisle, many on the Left have used doublethink to convince themselves to believe House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s false claim that the most recent tax plan is theft from the middle class. While the libertarian in me rejoiced that Pelosi unintentionally referred to taxation as theft, it is a blatant lie to say that letting Person A (in this case, the wealthy) keep more of their own money is the same as stealing it from Person B (in this case, everyone else). While the tax plan has many problems, it is Pelosi’s supporters’ use of doublethink which allows them to embrace this blatant lie as an unequivocal truth.
While there are many elements to the totalitarian omnipotence of the Party, its ability to force its subjects to use doublethink is the most pertinent to contemporary American politics. It is terrifying that people can will themselves into believing a blatant lie. The fact that doublethink has permeated American politics is not only disturbing, but also dangerous. When we, the people, are willing to bend our minds to accept falsehoods posited by our leaders, we open ourselves up to poor leadership and tyranny. Moreover, only through the harshest critique of our leaders, not docile obedience, can we expect them to do what is right for us—the people of the United States—and not just for themselves. The American political landscape may not look like dystopian London, but our embrace of doublethink has us slowly moving toward entering an Orwellian nightmare.