Tuesday, March 28, 2017

 

1984

When I was in high school, I read George Orwell's "1984." I remember the whole thing seeming a little silly, since it was already 1980, and everything seemed pretty normal.

The problem, of course, is that I wasn't a very good reader. The book was not intended as a prediction, but a metaphor. I only got that a few decades later, in a conversation with my parents and my brother (all of whom are better readers than I am). 

Thinking about it now, maybe the most prescient insight involves the "Inner Party" and the "Outer Party" which run the government. The Inner Party is composed of a core group of people who decide what will happen while the Outer Party implements them. Truth is skillfully manipulated by changing reporting of facts and the destruction of documents that may contradict the party line.

If the Trump administration intended anything like this (and many are using 1984 in this way), there have been two major failures already. First, Trump has been largely unable to form an Outer Party-- the bureaucrats that comply with his directions. He has left many positions open, and others are filled by holdovers. It is unclear if he and his staff have the capacity to ever fulfill this goal (if it is a goal).  Second, the failure of the Trump-supported health care bill reveals the inability of an Inner Party to come up with a "truth" that can be manifested through government. 

Have you read the book? What are you thinking about it lately?

Comments:
Trump was elected, in part, because lots of folks thought President Obama had already installed Orwell's dystopia. I don't think he did, of course, but following the rubric you laid out, President Obama lead a much more effective Inner/Outer party construct. On the one hand, the vast government bureaucracy is largely sympathetic to progressive and expansive policies, and implemented the Obama agenda faithfully. And on the other, President Obama was no beacon of truth. He regularly manipulated and misrepresented facts to serve his own interests--"all politicians lie," as they say. The media were sometimes complicit in this, and often too cozy with the Administration to be (or to appear) objective. So, for many conservatives, 1984 came to fruition in 2008, not 2016.

None of which excuses Trump from his toxic, disqualifying character flaws. But being an erratic, inveterate liar with no particular morals does not make Trump an Orwellian autocrat. Leadership in 1984's Oceania required a litany of evil but refined skills. Trump is dangerous--largely due to his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to policy and apparent manipulability--but don't give him too much credit.
 
Still can't make it through the book all these years later. Where are my Clifnotes?
 
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