The Donald is NOT Watching You!
EDITORS NOTE: From time to time here at GeoPolichinelle we like to step away from the heady world of international hypocrisy and spend a little time reflecting on the domestic variety. To be clear, we do not subscribed to the classic, Morgenthau inspired chasm between the two planes, as we are all about recursive political interactions and social constructivism – but for the most part we focus on what is happening “over there” because what is happening over here is simply too disappointing to acknowledge – Plus, Wonkette does such a good job of covering that stuff. In any event, today we have a guest speaker who would like to share a few thoughts on Mr. Trump…
A short polemic from Comrade Ogilvy
OK, let’s start off by clarifying a couple of major points before we get into the nitty-gritty of this tirade – Donald Trump is NOT Big Brother, or the new Hitler, or Mussolini, or Stalin, or whatever other totalitarian despot springs to mind when folks are looking to ramp up the rhetoric and invoke Godwin’s Law. For one thing, all of the previously mentioned individuals exhibited classic Weberian understandings of “Charismatic Authority” and with the best will in the world, the Donald can hardly claim to be a charismatic individual. No one follows Mr. Trump for the leadership and inspirational motivation that he provides. No – at best, Trump is good at whipping up externalized xenophobic hatred, and signaling out minority communities as a focal point for fear of loss and shrinking entitlements by an increasingly paranoid sub-section of the electorate. That is a tool used by despots, to be sure, but it is not enough to qualify as the new Hitler.
Also, (and it makes my bile rise to say this), all of the other demagogues that Trump is compared with actually had a series of strongly held principles, upon which they were willing to act. Crazy, hate-filled, racist, paranoid, insane principles –but principles non the less. What does Donald have? Aside from a few vague remarks about making America great again, has anyone identified the actual, principled notions that Trump wants to embody through his administration? America First? Isolationism? Killing Terrorists? He mentions these things in abstract ways, but never actually lays out what they mean in any definitive sense, except to state: “trust me, it’s going to be great.”
1984 is a seminal work, but as a political allegory folks generally just view it as a statement on the expression of totalitarian authority, and the oppressive nature of a total panoptic social order. You can pretty much type the search terms “Orwell” “1984” and ANY POLITICAL FIGURE for the past 25 years and you will find articles, memes, and badly photoshopped stills suggesting that the individual in question is the living embodiment of Big Brother – Hillary Clinton? Yup! Barak Obama? Sure, why not! The Donald? Absolutely! In other words, the constant overuse of this trope is both annoying and pointless, because when something can be used by partisan ideologues to demonize absolutely anyone, well then it loses all meaning and/or impact. At least Obama gets a little kudos for ripping off Apple and their rip off of Orwell in the famous “buy our product in order to prove you are not a mindless idiot” campaign from back in the day (Yeah! Consumerism as rebellion – edgy!) but for the most part the analysis is kind of lazy and focuses exclusively on making the “modern day Hitler” analogy.
As a “Hero of Oceania” and almost recipient of the Order of Conspicuous Merit, I feel like I have a duty to debunk the “despot” narrative that is doing the rounds, as there have been a number of articles attempting to use Orwell’s dystopian vision from 1984 to describe the Trump campaign, and while I think there is genuine value in the framing, people are missing the real comparison here. Donald Trump is not Big Brother, by any stretch of the imagination – what he is though, is the living embodiment of a mindless agitator from the “Inner Party.” In essence, he exemplifies the idea that it is not enough to be one of the sheep – you have to be one of the sheep on the inside of the flock – let me explain…
In Orwell’s vision, the panoptic screens and total surveillance state were simple tools that served to re-enforce the far more disturbing systems of control that dominated life in Oceania. Anyone familiar with the work of Michel Foucault (and in particular his work on “Disciplinary Societies”) will get when I am going with this. Without getting too much into the weeds, the real horror in 1984 is the way in which members of the party are able to suppress their own thoughts and instincts, to the point that all sense of logic, objective reality, or even phenomenological experience can be dismissed and replaced by the “truth” of party doctrine.
In order to accomplish this feat of cognitive dissonance, the true party member has to master two distinct cognitive processes – Doublethink and Duck Speak – and this is where Trump comes into his own.
Orwell describes doublethink as follows:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ’doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
Now, having read that passage, tell me that it does not scream “TRUMP 2016.” Orwell actually encapsulated Trump’s fundamental worldview when he pointed out that the process of doublethink worked because “All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.” Bingo! The Donald has never lost at anything – ever! – regardless of reality, or history, or actual facts. Plus, everyone knows reality has a liberal bias, right?
But how to accomplish this feat of mental gymnastics? Well, the solution to the problem involves Duckspeak, which is a process designed to “make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.” The real beauty of duckspeak is that it is a true doublethink process – “Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.”Duckspeak works because it fully embraces the reductive, simplistic vocabulary of Newspeak, and allows the user to communicate emotion without having to convey any actual meaning.
“The use of [Newspeak] encouraged a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous. And this was exactly what was aimed at. The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness… [A] Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets. His training fitted him to do this, the language gave him an almost foolproof instrument, and the texture of the words, with their harsh sound and a certain wilful ugliness which was in accord with the spirit of Ingsoc, assisted the process still further.”
I mean, come on! I can’t be the only person seeing this, right? Even the description that Winston Smith gives for his role in erasing inconvenient truths and flushing them down the “memory hole” involves reframing the past to reflect current political needs, and is done in the voice of Big Brother – “a style at once military and pedantic, and, because of a trick of asking questions and then promptly answering them (’What lessons do we learn from this fact, comrades? The lesson — which is also one of the fundamental principles of Ingsoc — that,’ etc., etc.), easy to imitate.”
It’s uncanny, right? No matter how much he might try, the Donald could never be Big Brother – notwithstanding the fact that in Orwell’s vision B.B. is a composite figurehead, invented to serve a purpose and as insubstantial as every other figment of the party mythos. But Donald does a fine job of bleating like a sheep, gathering folks for their two minutes hate, and spouting whatever resonates with the unconscious fears of his fellow sheeple – whether he believes in it or not. After all, truth is what you make of it, by consensus, and with as much verbal word salad, incoherent rambling, and automatic duckspeak as the market will allow…
So let’s all just acknowledge that Donald and his vexatious campaign is not the cause of our depressingly low-brow and ill informed political dialog at present – he is just a product of a certain kind of gestalt fear on the part of a dwindling demographic who can see (but desperately want to avoid acknowledging) the electoral abyss ahead. Donald is the the inner sheep (or perhaps just an unwitting Judas Goat) who leeds the flock in chanting, and is just as bemused by what is happening as anyone else – or at least he would be, if his cognitive dissonance would allow him to exercise any form of self reflection.
Now if only we could get him on board with the Anti-Sex League…