In the midst of Trump not only lying to try to conceal a mistaken tweet about the hurricane forecast but NOAA issuing directives against weather scientists talking about the actual, for-real forecast and contradicting him the comparisons have intensified to George Orwell’s novel 1984 and in particular the hold that The Party insisted upon about truth.
I understand the roots of it, but I end up finding 1984 comparisons empty because 1984 involved a complex and broad-spectrum initiative populated by thousands to systematically scrub all information sources and create consistency among them. The Trump administration can’t get it together for even a local, easily-controlled version of that (for instance, his original erroneous tweet is still up on twitter, along with several progressive lies about what he said in the original tweet). This group’s allies own the majority of American television media and can’t even manage effective perception control there. Consider key members of the Trump administration, such as Seb Gorka, Anthony Scaramucci, or Steve Bannon; despite self-styling as O’Briens their incompetence and bufoonery would not only keep them out of the Thought Police, but the Inner Party as well.
1984 comparisons sanitize and compartmentalize the actual situation, which is an entirely human response, but one that we should guard against. It fails to reflect the active malice involved in our situation, and the thoroughly whitewashed landscape of 1984 fails to include the very real dangers that people of color or other underrepresented groups currently face because those groups by and large didn’t exist in the novel (in the sense that while other cultures and ethnicities were mentioned, they were all external to Airstrip One). The genocides have largely already happened in 1984 and left a relatively homogeneous environment. Using a 1984 comparison means we quickly bypass the very real risks to underrepresented peoples growing at this very moment.
And they tend not to accurately reflect the interpersonal nature of the malice, that Trump’s base supports him not primarily as a means to political ends they’ve long sought but instead see him *as* the permission to act as dishonestly, slovenly, maliciously, and lazily in their own lives as he does. No such relationship exists between 1984 citizens and Big Brother; if anything, it’s the reverse. The 1984 model requires him to be “perfect”, and for citizens to believe he’s perfect.
I think for the most part, Trump’s base has no such illusions – they pretend that way in some respects, but where cognitive dissonance was a mentioned and dangerous trait in 1984 (think of the man unable to control his facial expressions that Smith passed on the street), there’s no such dissonance in the idiots we’re fighting now. They’re not even Brownshirts – they lack the discipline, and Trump’s own poor character authorizes that, rather than inspiring formation. They’re slobs and failed con artists and bitter estranged relatives.
And in those senses, immediately more dangerous.
Relating fears about the current administration is understandable in the tradition of people using fiction they’ve read to contextualize what they see. In the case of 1984 it pretty quickly establishes or reinforces privileged blind spots that we simply can’t afford. All models are wrong, some are useful; this one, not so much.