George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, was published in 1949, following the end of World War II. In what is his most popular work, Orwell utilizes stunning imagery, unimaginable ideals, and enigmatic word choice to make thought-provoking statements about politics, power, and thought.
The novel follows Winston Smith, a government worker in Oceania who finds himself going against the Party and Big Brother himself by committing ThoughtCrime against a government and a country he has inherently been taught to trust.
Language is controlled, citizens are being watched through telescreens, which are essentially televisions that take up entire walls in homes, and the news is even altered to make the government seem more successful than it actually is.
Though 1984 is a work of fiction, Orwell presents a world he foresaw, and the novel has garnered a lot of attention of late due to many of the parallels between its plot points and the events surrounding the Trump administration.
Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway’s comments about Sean Spencer offering “alternative facts” regarding the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration caused quite the buzz. “Alternative facts” are very reminiscent of 1984 in that part of the protagonist’s job is to create these “alternative facts” for the public. Part of Winston’s job entails correcting newspaper headlines and stories to make sure the public is constantly under the impression that Big Brother has followed through on his promises and is, in fact, bettering the state of Oceania.
It gets worse.
In January, President Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the travel ban. We see another Orwellian happenstance here as Attorney General Yates is punished for defying Big Brother.
In Oceania, one of the most heinous crimes a citizen could commit was ThoughtCrime, a crime that entails thinking things one knows that the government would not approve of. Winston is constantly afraid of committing ThoughtCrime and being punished by the Thought Police when he decided to buy a notebook and keep diary entries.
Told that Big Brother is watching them, citizens were always careful of what they did, who they spoke to, and how they acted around each other because anyone could report anything to the government at any time. There was no way of knowing who was honest and who was dangerous.
Moreover, the motto of IngSoc, the political ideology of Oceania, was frightening as well. It stated, “Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. War is peace.”
In the novel, “Freedom is slavery” is often used to depict the problems that come with giving people too much freedom, especially freedom of speech. If people know of words such as “freedom,” “protest,” and “rights,” they are more likely to challenge the government. Interestingly enough, IngSoc finds that offering such freedoms results in enslaving the people, perhaps because the government feels that citizens cannot define their own rights and therefore need to have what they can and cannot do defined for them.
This is very similar to Trump’s refusal to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity. The Trump administration feels that transgender men and women cannot define who they are and what they want on their own, so it makes decisions for them. Of course, that is ludicrous, but its similarity to an authoritarian government in a dystopian novel is even more frightening.
“Ignorance is strength” goes back to Conway’s “alternative facts” in that Trump feels that so long as the people are unaware of the truth, his administration will not be met with opposition. The idea that keeping the truth from citizens is the best way for this country to grow is completely backwards and incredibly dangerous.
The startling overlap between 1984 and the Trump administration continues with “war is peace.” The idea behind “war is peace” in the novel was that if Oceania was constantly at war and the citizens were constantly subjected to hardship, then no one would be able to find out about the secrets the government is keeping.
While the U.S. is not going to be subjected to perpetual war, President Trump has an antagonistic personality which is capable of starting a war that he feels will maintain the peace between the U.S. and a foreign power. Unfortunately, war does not result in peace, and the Trump administration should not think of it as a solution.
1984 is a work of fiction, but there is no reason to doubt the eerie overlap between the events in the novel and the controversies surrounding the Trump administration. Whether he is aware of it or not, by creating these subtle similarities between his presidency and Orwell’s dystopian novel, President Trump is creating an incredibly dangerous rhetoric that could be detrimental to this country and its citizens.