Trump's America Is Worse Than Orwell's '1984' | The Nation


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  jbb  •  2 weeks ago  •  27 comments

By:   Tom Engelhardt (The Nation)

Trump's America Is Worse Than Orwell's '1984' | The Nation
As global warming intensifies, our world is becoming bleaker than one of the darkest dystopias ever imagined.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Trump's America Is Worse Than Orwell's '1984'

As global warming intensifies, our world is becoming bleaker than one of the darkest dystopias ever imagined.

By Tom Engelhardt

I, Winston Smith… I mean, Tom Engelhardt… have not just been reading a dystopian novel but, it seems, living one—and I suspect I've been living one all my life.

Yes, I recently reread George Orwell's classic 1949 novel, 1984. In it, Winston Smith, a secret opponent of the totalitarian world of Oceania, one of three great imperial superpowers left on planet Earth, goes down for the count at the hands of Big Brother. It was perhaps my third time reading it in my 75 years on this planet.

Since I was a kid, I've always had a certain fascination for dystopian fiction. It started, I think, with War of the Worlds, that ur alien-invasion-from-outer-space novel in which Martians land in southern England and begin tearing London apart. Its author, H.G. Wells, wrote it at the end of the 19th century, evidently to give his English readers a sense of what it might have felt like to be living in Tasmania, the island off the coast of Australia, and have the equivalent of Martians—the British, as it happened—appear in your world and begin to destroy it (and your culture with it).

I can remember, at perhaps age 13, reading that book under the covers by flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep; I can remember, that is, being all alone, chilled (and thrilled) to the bone by Wells's grim vision of civilizational destruction. To put this in context:In 1957, I would already have known that I was living in a world of potential civilizational destruction and that the Martians were here. They were then called the Russians, the Ruskies, the Commies, the Reds. I would only later grasp that we (or we, too) were Martians on this planet.

The world I inhabited was, of course, a post-Hiroshima, post-Nagasaki one. I was born on July 20, 1944, just a year and a few days before my country dropped atomic bombs on those two Japanese cities, devastating them in blasts of a kind never before experienced and killing more than 200,000 people. Thirteen years later, I had already become inured to scenarios of the most dystopian kinds of global destruction—of a sort that would have turned those Martians into pikers—as the United States and the Soviet Union (in a distant second place) built up their nuclear arsenals at a staggering pace.

Nuclear obliteration had, by then, become part of our everyday way of life. After all, what American of a certain age who lived in a major city can't remember, on some otherwise perfectly normal day, air-raid sirens suddenly beginning to howl outside your classroom window as the streets emptied? They instantly called up a vision of a world in ashes. Of course, we children had only a vague idea of what had happened under those mushroom clouds that rose over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As we huddled under our desks, hands over heads, "ducking and covering" like Bert the Turtle while a radio on the teacher's desk blared Conelrad warnings, we knew enough, however, to realize that those desks and hands were unlikely to save us from the world's most powerful weaponry. The message being delivered wasn't one of safety but of ultimate vulnerability to Russian nukes. After such tests, as historian Stephen Weart recalled in his book Nuclear Fear, "The press reported with ghoulish precision how many millions of Americans 'died' in each mock attack."

If those drills didn't add up to living an everyday vision of the apocalypse as a child, what would? I grew up, in other words, with a new reality: For the first time in history, humanity had in its hands Armageddon-like possibilities of a sort previously left to the gods. Consider, for instance, the US military's Single Integrated Operational Plan of 1960 for a massive nuclear strike on the Communist world. It was, we now know, meant to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets, including at least 130 cities. Official, if then secret, estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured (and probably underestimated the longer-term effects of radiation).

In the early 1960s, a commonplace on the streets of New York where I lived was the symbol for "fallout shelters" (as they were then called), the places you would head for during just such an impending global conflagration. I still remember how visions of nuclear destruction populated my dreams (or rather nightmares) and those of my friends, as some would later admit to me. To this day, I can recall the feeling of sudden heat on one side of my body as a nuclear bomb went off on the distant horizon of one of those dreams. Similarly, I recall sneaking into a Broadway movie theater to see On the Beach with two friends—kids of our age weren't allowed into such films without parents—and so getting a glimpse, popcorn in hand, of what a devastated, nuclearized San Francisco might look like. That afternoon at that film, I also lived through a post-nuclear-holocaust world's end in Australia with no less than Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire for company.

An All-American Hate Week

So my life—and undoubtedly yours, too—has been lived, at least in part, as if in a dystopian novel. And certainly since November 2016—since, that is, the election of Donald Trump—the feeling (for me, at least) of being in just such a world, has only grown stronger. Worse yet, there's nothing under the covers by flashlight about The Donald or his invasive vision of our American future. And this time around, as a nonmember of his "base," it's been anything but thrilling to the bone.

It was with such a feeling growing in me that, all these years later, I once again picked up Orwell's classic novel and soon began wondering whether Donald Trump wasn't our very own idiosyncratic version of Big Brother. If you remember, when Orwell finished the book in 1948 (he seems to have flipped that year for the title), he imagined an England, which was part of Oceania, one of the three superpowers left on the planet. The other two were Eurasia (essentially the old Soviet Union) and Eastasia (think a much-expanded China). In the book, the three of them are constantly at war with each other on their borderlands (mostly in South Asia and Africa), a war that is never meant to be either decisive or to end.

In Oceania's Airstrip One (the former England), where Winston Smith is a minor functionary in the Ministry of Truth (a ministry of lies, of course), the Party rules eternally in a world in which—a classic Orwellian formulation—war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. It's a world of "inner" Party members (with great privilege), an outer circle like Smith who get by, and below them a vast population of impoverished "proles."

It's also a world in which the present is always both the future and the past, while every document, every newspaper, every bit of history is constantly being rewritten—Smith's job—to make it so. At the same time, documentation of the actual past is tossed down "the memory hole" and incinerated. It's a world in which a "telescreen" is in every room, invariably announcing splendid news (that might have been terrible news in another time). That screen can also spy on you at just about any moment of your life. In that, Orwell, who lived at a time when TV was just arriving, caught something essential about the future worlds of surveillance and social media.

In his dystopian world, English itself is being reformulated into something called Newspeak, so that, in a distant future, it will be impossible for anyone to express a non-Party-approved thought. Meanwhile, whichever of those other two superpowers Oceania is at war with at a given moment, as well as a possibly mythical local opposition to the Party, are regularly subjected to a mass daily "two minutes hate" session and periodic "hate weeks." Above all, it's a world in which, on those telescreens and posters everywhere, the mustachioed face of Big Brother, the official leader of the Party—"Big Brother is watching you!"—hovers over everything, backed up by a Ministry of Love (of, that is, imprisonment, reeducation, torture, pain, and death).

That was Orwell's image of a kind of Stalinist Soviet Union perfected for a future of everlasting horror. Today, it might be argued, Americans have been plunged into our own bizarre version of 1984. In our world, Donald Trump has, in some sense, absorbed into his own person more or less everything dystopian in the vicinity. In some strange fashion, he and his administration already seem like a combination of the Ministry of Truth (a ministry of eternal lies), the memory hole (down which the past, especially the Obama legacy and the president's own discarded statements, disappear daily), the two-minutes-hate sessions and hate week that are the essence of any of his rallies ("Lock her up!" "Send her back!"), and recently the "hate" slaughter of Mexicans and Hispanics in El Paso, Texas, by a gunman with a Trumpian "Hispanic invasion of Texas" engraved in his brain. And don't forget Big Brother.

In some sense, President Trump might be thought of as Big Brother flipped. In The Donald's version of Orwell's novel, he isn't watching us every moment of the day and night, it's we who are watching him in a historically unprecedented way. In what I've called the White Ford Bronco presidency, nothing faintly like the media's 24/7 focus on him has ever been matched. No human being has ever been attended to, watched, or discussed this way—his every gesture, tweet, passing comment, half-verbalized thought, slogan, plan, angry outburst, you name it. In the past, such coverage only went with, say, a presidential assassination, not everyday life in the White House (or at Bedminster, Mar-a-Lago, his rallies, on Air Force One, wherever).

Room 101 (in 2020)

Think of Donald Trump's America as, in some sense, a satirical version of 1984 in crazed formation. Not surprisingly, however, Orwell, remarkable as he was, fell short, as we all do, in imagining the future. What he didn't see as he rushed to finish that novel before his own life ended makes the Trumpian present far more potentially dystopian than even he might have imagined. In his book, he created a nightmare vision of something like the Communist Party of the Stalin-era Soviet Union perpetuating itself into eternity by constantly regenerating and reinforcing a present-moment of ultimate power. For him, dystopia was an accentuated version of just such a forever, a "huge, accurately planned effort to freeze history at a particular moment of time," as a document in the book puts it, to "arrest the course of history" for "thousands of years."

Yes, in 1948, Orwell obviously knew about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the weaponry that went with them. (In 1984, he even mentions the use of such weaponry in the then-future 1950s.) What he didn't imagine in his book was a dystopian world not of the grimmest kind of ongoingness but of endings, of ultimate destruction. He didn't conjure up a nuclear apocalypse set off by one of his three superpowers and, of course, he had no way of imagining another kind of potential apocalypse that has become increasingly familiar to us all: climate change.

Unfortunately, on both counts, Donald Trump is proving dystopian indeed. He is, after all, the president who threatened to unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on North Korea (before falling in love with its dictator). He only recently claimed he could achieve victory in the almost 18-year-old Afghan War "in a week" by wiping that country "off the face of the Earth" and killing "10 million people." For the first time, his generals used the "Mother of All Bombs," the most powerful weapon in the United States conventional arsenal (with a mushroom cloud that, in a test at least, could be seen for 20 miles), in that same country, clearly to impress him.

More recently, beginning with its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, his administration has started trashing the Cold War-era nuclear architecture of restraint that kept the great-power arsenals under some control. In the process, it's clearly helping to launch a wildly expensive new nuclear arms race on Planet Earth. And keep in mind that this is happening at a time when we know that a relatively localized nuclear war between regional powers like India and Pakistan (whose politicians are once again at each other's throats over Kashmir) could create a global nuclear winter and starve to death up to a billion people.

And keep in mind as well that all of the above may prove to be the lesser of Donald Trump's dystopian acts when it comes to the ultimate future of humanity. After all, he and his administration are, in just about every way imaginable, doing their damnedest to aid and abet climate change by ensuring that ever more carbon will be released into the atmosphere, warming an already overheated planet further. That's the very planet on which humanity has, since 1990, burned half of all the fossil fuels ever used. Despite the Paris climate accord and much talk about the necessity of getting climate change under some kind of control, carbon is still being released into the atmosphere at record levels. (Not surprisingly, US emissions began rising again in 2018.)

This summer, amid fierce heat waves in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, as well as the setting of global heat records, with parts of the Arctic literally burning (while heating twice as fast as the world average), with Greenland melting, and the Antarctic losing sea ice in record amounts, some of the predictions of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the relatively distant future already seem to be in sight. As climate scientist Marco Tedesco put it recently, speaking of the Arctic, "We are seeing ice melting now that we expected 30 to 40 years from now."

We are, in other words, already on a dystopian planet. With threats to the world's food supply and the swamping of coastal cities lying in our future, with the migration of previously unheard of populations in that same future, with heat rising to levels that may, in some places, become unbearable, leaving parts of the planet uninhabitable, it is at least possible now to imagine the future collapse of civilization itself.

And keep in mind as well that our own twisted version of Big Brother, that guy with the orange hair instead of the mustache, could be around to be watched for significantly longer, should he win the election of 2020. (His polling numbers have, on the whole, been slowly rising, not falling in these years.)

In other words, with the American president lending a significant hand, we may make it to 2084 far sooner than anyone expected. With that in mind, let's return for a moment to 1984. As no one who has read Orwell's book is likely to forget, its mildly dissident anti-hero, Winston Smith, is finally brought into the Ministry of Love by the Thought Police to have his consciousness retuned to the needs of the Party. In the process, he's brutally tortured until he can truly agree that 2 + 2 = 5. Only when he thinks he's readjusted his mind to fit the Party's version of the world does he discover that his travails are anything but over.

He still has to visit Room 101. As his interrogator tells him, "You asked me once what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world." And that "worst thing" is always adjusted to the specific terrors of the specific prisoner.

So here's one way to think of where we are at this moment on Planet Earth: Americans—all of humanity, in fact—may already be in Room 101, whether we know it or not, and the truth is, by this steaming summer, that most of us should know it.

It's obviously time to act on a global scale. Tell that to Big Brother.


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1  seeder  JBB    2 weeks ago

Can things even get more dystopian? More Orwellian?

Greg Jones
1.1  Greg Jones  replied to  JBB @1    2 weeks ago

Yep...if Biden gets elected and the far left takes control, the bad shit show of radical liberalism and anarchy is just getting started.

Do you really think all this violence and rioting by these subversive groups is simply against Trump?

This thugs are anti-authoritarian trouble makers first and foremost, no matter which political party is in power.

1.1.1  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Greg Jones @1.1    2 weeks ago
Do you really think all this violence and rioting by these subversive groups is simply against Trump?

So.... in your mind the Navy Vet that was clubbed by Trumps Stormtroopers was a subversive?  Wow, am I in good company or what....! And no...... these protests and riots started over the use of lethal force by the police, and Trumps answer, rather than address the issue is to be a coward, and send more excessive force.

Trump is a coward!

1.1.2  loki12  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @1.1.1    2 weeks ago
So.... in your mind the Navy Vet that was clubbed by Trumps Stormtroopers was a subversive?  In my opinion he was a worthless POS looking for attention, nothing more. Probably hoped to win the law suit lottery.  I'm betting the worthless fuck had a lawyer lined up before he went, do you want to bet? so how long before he files his lawsuit? is it about the constitution or about the money? I guess we will find out.

Wow, am I in good company or what....! And no...... these protests and riots started over the use of lethal force by the police, With the exception of Floyd, Force is used against POS's that can't follow simple directions and failed to comply with a lawful order. 

 Trumps answer, rather than address the issue is to be a coward, and send more excessive force.  Holy hypocrisy batman, weren't you just complaining about states rights, now you want trump to control the states, IT IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT FEDERAL ENCLAVES. If you need more people to protect it you send more people,

Trump is a coward! So is Joe Dementia! 

1.1.3  Tessylo  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @1.1.1    2 weeks ago

They say the peaceful protesters are escalating these protests, no, it's tRumps unidentified goon/thug paramilitary squads who are doing so, and the Boogaloo boys and other white supremacists.    

2  seeder  JBB    2 weeks ago

And, it has only gotten exponentially worse since...

Greg Jones
2.1  Greg Jones  replied to  JBB @2    2 weeks ago

How has it gotten worse?

Since what?

Vic Eldred
3  Vic Eldred    2 weeks ago

Ah, to have such influence as an attempt at countering Mr Baker on the front page and to be methodically fact checked!  If Engelhardt can find a way to plug Donald Trump into 1984, I can just as easily plug Trump into High Noon - as the courageous Sheriff, who has to do it all alone, Will Kane.


3.1  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Vic Eldred @3    2 weeks ago

Baloney..... Trump is a coward and sent someone else to sew more discontent that his supporter will lap up, rather than doing the hard work of moving this country steps closer to equality under the constitution.  

Sparty On
3.1.1  Sparty On  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @3.1    2 weeks ago

More progressive nonsense from the hive.   The worker drones are working overtime today.  

Must be free computer time day at the library for the homeless.

3.1.2  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.1    2 weeks ago

Ever get tired of insulting people that speak truths that you don't agree with Sparty?  

Sparty On
3.1.3  Sparty On  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @3.1.2    2 weeks ago

This article isn't about me but regardless, i suppose the truth must be hurting you a little eh?

Dismayed Patriot
3.2  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  Vic Eldred @3    2 weeks ago
I can just as easily plug Trump into High Noon - as the courageous Sheriff

Ah yes, the "courageous Sheriff" who dodged the draft and later said "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart, This was much easier". Dishonest Donald doesn't have a courageous bone in his fat disgusting body. He's the most cowardly spineless piece of shit to ever sit in the oval office, and that's after it was occupied by another completely corrupt Republican Richard Nixon.

Trout Giggles
3.2.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Dismayed Patriot @3.2    2 weeks ago
Ah yes, the "courageous Sheriff" who dodged the draft and later said "I always wanted to get the Purple Heart, This was much easier".

All Purple Heart recipients should have been offended at that.

Dismayed Patriot
3.2.2  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.2.1    2 weeks ago
All Purple Heart recipients should have been offended at that.

All patriotic Americans who honor the sacrifice of the real recipients should have been offended at that.

Paula Bartholomew
3.2.3  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.2.1    2 weeks ago

All military members should be.  I was.

Vic Eldred
3.2.4  Vic Eldred  replied to  Dismayed Patriot @3.2    2 weeks ago
Ah yes, the "courageous Sheriff" who dodged the draft

Much closer to the truth than your "big brother" who gets thwarted at every turn by federal judges, the ACLU and other deep state operatives.

Big Brother never gets contradicted - remember that and you'll have a lot less difficulty in seeing who Big Brother actually is.

Vic Eldred
3.2.5  Vic Eldred  replied to  Trout Giggles @3.2.1    2 weeks ago

I think they are offended by those who once called them "baby killers".  Do you think they have forgotten?

3.2.6  Tessylo  replied to  Vic Eldred @3.2.4    2 weeks ago

Ah, the Deep State . . . . 

'Nuff said Vic, 'nuff said . . . . 

3.2.7  Tessylo  replied to  Vic Eldred @3.2.5    2 weeks ago

Who called who 'baby killers'?

Vic Eldred
3.2.8  Vic Eldred  replied to  Tessylo @3.2.7    2 weeks ago
Who called who 'baby killers'?

Never heard of it?

That would be your Vietnam protesters, the same generation with so much power today.

Let me lay out the facts for those who are somehow unaware:

"The image of the American GI in Vietnam was principally painted and stained by two people: Jane Fonda and John Kerry. They impugned the reputation of over 9 million American servicemen and women, who honorably served, as “baby killers” and agents of atrocities. For personal gain these two “media stars” indelibly scarred each and every honorably serving American patriot, both those who survived and those who did not. Fonda, Kerry and the media would create the “fake character” of the average Vietnam veteran as uneducated, minority, conscripted and an unrestrained killer. As a result, the returning Vietnam vet hoped for silence at best, or feared at the worst to be subjected to protests and condemnation with the famous epitaph “baby killer”.

Those who can remember those times will never forget

Trout Giggles
3.2.9  Trout Giggles  replied to  Dismayed Patriot @3.2.2    2 weeks ago

I stand corrected by you and Paula

3.2.10  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Vic Eldred @3.2.4    2 weeks ago

who gets thwarted at every turn by federal judges, the ACLU and other deep state operatives.

Now that Twitter has purged itself of the Qanon conspiracists, looks like they will be coming here to NT.

3.2.11  cjcold  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @3.2.10    2 weeks ago

A few have already been here for far too long.

3.2.12  Tessylo  replied to  Vic Eldred @3.2.8    2 weeks ago

Yawn, old news.  Moving on.  

Dismayed Patriot
3.2.13  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  Vic Eldred @3.2.8    2 weeks ago
Those who can remember those times will never forget

"newly released tapes from 1968 detailed that the FBI had “bugged” the telephones of the South Vietnamese ambassador and of Anna Chennault, one of Nixon’s aides. Based on the tapes, says Taylor for the BBC, we learn that in the time leading up to the Paris Peace talks, “Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal"

Eventually, Nixon won by just 1 percent of the popular vote. “Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968,” says the BBC.

Yes, we will never forget Republican Richard Nixon prolonging the Vietnam war leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers all for personal political gain. It's not far from the current occupant using the office for personal political gain, pressuring other countries to provide dirt on opponents, sending out Flynn to make illicit deals with foreign leaders even before taking office, asking ambassadors to pressure foreign governments to turn business and events to Trump owned businesses. But this is now all to be expected from dishonest conservative Republican elected representatives, even they know they can't win an election without cheating.

Sparty On
3.2.14  Sparty On  replied to  Dismayed Patriot @3.2.13    2 weeks ago

A real inconvenient fact for Democrats:

Vietnam ..... started by Democrats .... ended by Republicans.


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