It’s Orwellian, But Not The Way You Think

It’s Orwellian, But Not The Way You Think January 10, 2021

A lot has happened since the last time I blogged.

People are still reeling from the terrorist coup attempt on our nation’s capitol. A handful of the terrorists have been arrested and the FBI swears it’s looking for more. Congressmen who egged on the terrorists are being asked to resign. There’s a serious movement for a last-minute impeachment of the president, and unlike the one last year, this one stands a ghost of a chance of success. President Trump himself has been gagged rather effectively, as he doesn’t know how to call a real press conference anymore and Facebook and Twitter have permanently banned him. They’re also scrubbing social media of right-wing conspiracy mongers. The corporations that host it are going after the right-wing social media App Parler as well. Everyone’s afraid of what will happen at the inauguration of Joe Biden if they don’t.

Trump’s lackeys are calling this crackdown on misinformation “Orwellian.” They are making references to 1984, a book they obviously never read. Many people are pointing this out already. 1984 involves, among other things, a totalitarian government which controls all the media and floods the populace with propaganda at all times. Our current situation involves privately-owned media corporations refusing to carry the violent propaganda of a head of state. It’s the opposite of 1984. 

But that’s the strangest thing about Trump supporters: they don’t realize that Trump is the government. They elected him president and still think he’s their ally against the fat cats in the United States government. They believe this. Similarly, they elected a grossly wealthy heir who lives in a Manhattan penthouse, has a summer palace in Florida, and boasts about defecating in a gold toilet, because they think he represents the common man. They believe this too. They laud a spendthrift whose enterprises have gone bankrupt six times, because they are fiscal conservatives, and see no irony in that. They fawn over a thrice-married philandering cad with rape and pedophilia allegations about him, a man who has acted in a pornographic film, a man who publicly banters about sex with troubled women and teenage girls, because they are the “moral majority.” They look at a person who gleefully ordered that the children of migrants be ripped from their parents’ arms and tortured in cages, because they revere “the traditional family.” They look at a man whose foolish actions have driven up the abortion rate from the first year he was in office and adore him because they are pro-life.

They stormed the Capitol and smeared blood and feces on the walls, in order to interrupt a democratic election. They brought a noose to the National Mall and chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” They brought zip ties and guns into Congress to try and abduct and kill congresspersons. And they called it “patriotism.”

They bludgeoned one police officer to death and tortured another by crushing him in a door, after they had spent the summer insisting “Blue Lives Matter.”

It’s not at all like 1984. But the situation is Orwellian in another sense, as many besides me are pointing out. This situation is very like the ending of Orwell’s Animal Farm. At the end of Animal Farm, the pigs who have claimed that all animals are equal while becoming more and more overt authoritarian leaders, begin to look indistinguishable from human farmers. They walk out of the house on two feet. The sheep, who have up until that moment been chanting “Four legs good, two legs bad” begin to chant “four legs good, two legs better!” and the animals’ plight at the end of the novel is the same as under the cruel farmer at the beginning.

No, that’s not a perfect comparison either. But if you’re going to talk about Orwell, at least demonstrate that you’ve read some. Donald Trump is not anything like Winston in 1984. He’s a less intelligent version of Animal Farm’s Napoleon the pig. Napoleon was modeled after Stalin, who was a lot savvier than Trump, and who used different propaganda in a better way to control a different group of people, but the comparison can still be drawn.

I don’t think we’ll be so lucky the next time the Trumpian crowd chooses an idol. America’s next fling with authoritarianism just might involve an intelligent and charming leader, and God help us then.

Make no mistake: there will be a next time.

The millions of people who loved and voted for Trump are not going to go away. Some, but not nearly all, of the people who stormed the capitol were not apprehended, and the ones who were aren’t going to be punished nearly enough. They’re not going to learn a lesson.

The people who ran the accounts on Facebook and Twitter are going to  Parler, and if Parler is completely shut down they will live their backwards fantasy somewhere else.

I’m very sorry to inform you that Joe Biden is not going to fix this, and neither is turning the Senate blue. Flipping the Senate and electing Biden represent the ghost of a chance of the authoritarians not succeeding next time, if we work and organize hard enough for real change.

If Donald Trump is removed from office a few days early because he incited a coup attempt– as he should be, though I still don’t think he will– then remember: the deliberate torture of migrant children wasn’t the last straw. Calling the people who murdered Heather Heyer “fine people” wasn’t the last straw. Tear gassing peaceful protesters wasn’t the last straw. It took members of congress fleeing for their lives, pursued by terrorists armed with guns, bombs and zip-ties, to bring us this far. No matter what happens next, it’s been demonstrated for us that we live in a society that values some people’s lives far more than others. That has to change.

Remember that in two days, the administration of a president who incited a riot that killed five people, is going to execute a woman who killed one person. Lisa Montgomery committed homicide while psychotic after being involuntarily sterilized by the family that trafficked her as a child. She was found guilty of murder and put on death row. She will be the first female victim of a federal execution in more than thirty years. Any number of people could intervene at the last minute. As Sister Helen Prejean has pointed out, nobody can be compelled to take part in her execution. It’s possible for everyone who works at Terre Haute Prison to just go on strike until her sentence is commuted, but they won’t. She’s going to be killed in cold blood, because our society is busy talking about other things. That has to change.

The media could have shunned Donald Trump as far back as the nineties, when he was just a sleazy rich man making lurid comments about his infant daughter’s breasts, but he became a household name because sleazy people make for good ratings. NBC didn’t have to give him a reality show, but they did because NBC doesn’t care about sleazy men as long as they’re making money. Twitter could have banned Donald Trump in 2011 when he made his first foray into politics by reviving and amplifying the birther conspiracy. I disagree with Obama on many, many things and I don’t think he deserves the sterling reputation he had, but he is an American. The birther conspiracy was defamation. Social media has a responsibility to not let itself be used in that way. But they didn’t do anything. The news media could have stopped showing Trump’s ridiculous campaign speeches in 2015, but they made for good TV, so the media fixated on him. Bad people are glorified to satisfy our pornographic imagination. And here we are. This is the society we live in, and it has to change.

I don’t know if our society is Orwellian, strictly speaking, but it’s quite the dystopia in general.

That’s something we should all be concerned about.


Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.

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