Trump and the Rewriting of History

orwell-nineteen-eighty-four-large-cover

W.J. Astore

George Orwell’s 1984 is filled with wisdom.  Perhaps my favorite saying from that book is Orwell’s statement about history and its importance. He said, he who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

If you have the power, in the present, to rewrite history, to redefine the past, enshrining your version of history as fact while consigning all the bits you don’t like to oblivion (“down the memory hole”), you can define people’s sense of reality as well as what they believe is possible. You can limit what they see, their horizons.  You can limit how and what they think.  You can, in a major way, control the future.  Add the control of language to the restriction and re-definition of history and you have a powerful means to dominate meaning, discourse, and politics in society.

Donald Trump and Company are brazen in their rewriting of history, notes Rebecca Gordon in her latest post at TomDispatch.com.  They make no apologies and take no prisoners.  They simply claim lies to be true, repeating them over and over until some people come to accept them as truth.  The examples she cites include the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd (“Bigly!”), the reality of global warming (“Chinese lie!”), and why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey (“He hurt Hillary!”).

Another example of the big lie is the whole concept of “Trumpcare,” the recent revision to Obamacare as passed by the House.  They sell this as a health care plan instead of what it really is: a health coverage denial plan and tax cut for the rich.

As the Congressional Budget Office reported:

The GOP health care bill would insure 23 million fewer people than current law after a decade, while potentially impacting many with pre-existing conditions, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The bill would spend $1.1 trillion less on health care and use the savings primarily to finance large tax cuts for high-income earners and medical companies. Overall, it would reduce deficits by $119 billion over ten years.

I know one thing: that’s not a health care plan.

george-orwell
George Orwell

Returning to language, a big theme of Orwell’s 1984 is how language will be simplified, or dumbed down, stripping away meaning and subtlety and substituting unreflective obedience and coarseness in their place.  Think here about how Donald Trump speaks. Orwellian expressions like “doubleplusgood” are not foreign to a man who speaks in glittering generalities to sell his ideas and hyperbolic superlatives to extol his own virtues.

In his introduction today to Rebecca Gordon’s article, Tom Engelhardt quotes Trump’s recent graduation speech at the Coast Guard Academy, during which Trump did what he does best — sell himself with lies (“alternative facts!”):

I’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as president. Jobs pouring back into our country… We’ve saved the Second Amendment, expanded service for our veterans… I’ve loosened up the strangling environmental chains wrapped around our country and our economy, chains so tight that you couldn’t do anything — that jobs were going down… We’ve begun plans and preparations for the border wall, which is going along very, very well. We’re working on major tax cuts for all… And we’re also getting closer and closer, day by day, to great healthcare for our citizens.

One thing Trump does know is how to manipulate language — in short, to lie — to his own benefit.

In this age of Trump, a sense of history has rarely been more important. We have to fight for the richness, the complexity, as well as the accuracy of our history and our language. The very existence of the American republic depends on it.

6 thoughts on “Trump and the Rewriting of History

  1. Another great post, Bill–Thanks.

    Doug

    On Thu, May 25, 2017 at 10:47 AM, Bracing Views wrote:

    > wjastore posted: ” W.J. Astore George Orwell’s 1984 is filled with > wisdom. Perhaps my favorite saying from that book is Orwell’s statement > about history and its importance. He said, he who controls the past > controls the future. He who controls the present controls the p” >

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  2. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

    In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.
    ===================================================================
    Some smart fellow a few years ago, wrote Orwell got in wrong in 1984. The TV, Radio, etc., would not be used to spy on you (it could for all I know). The McMega-Media would be used to spend hours and hours entertaining you with garbage. The news would be carefully packaged to avoid deep thought. Several channels fight and fight WW 2. Sports is 24/7/365.

    A good example of prepackaged approved News is Health Care. John Conyers of Michigan sponsored HR 676 Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act – health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services, and vision care, now has 110 Co-Sponsors (Single Payer). The McMega-Media has ignored HR 676.

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    1. Mono-Lang: this is what Huxley’s Brave New World is all about. People are so pleasantly numbed with drugs and entertainment that they don’t care about anything as long as they are supplied. America is nothing if not the world’s leading supplier of entertainment and consumer goods. What the book does not cover is how desperation, as we see in modern America, can drive people to the same escape.

      Bill, in regard to your comments on the healthcare situation. I provide a link below to an article that is sobering. It tells of how Kentuckians who finally have insurance under Obamacare and like it, nevertheless cannot bring themselves to vote against their guy in Congress who is in favor of the Republican plan. In other words, their party loyalty outweighs their own welfare though they realize from what they have learned that they will take a big financial hit if the Republican plan is passed. This partisan loyalty destroys the foundation of democracy, that individuals will use their own well being when deciding for whom to vote.

      The article: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/7/15674380/obamacare-kentucky-trump-ahca

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  3. Back in highschool I one day understood that what counts is not so much what you say but how you present it. At the end of a term I brought home bad marks and was embarassed about it, so my parents got nervous too. When my brother a few hours later did the same he laughed it off as nothing to worry about so my parents didn’t. They figured we knew best whether there was reason to worry.
    I keep that in mind when listening to politicians getting away with increasingly outrageous lies. All it takes is one Trump showing how effective this is,to create countless epigones. Such as Teresa May’s snap election ‘manifesto’ which is brimming with patent lies about how she will create paradise on earth for all immigrants and their descendants. May, whose rabid xenophobia and islamophobia were evident already when she was Home Secretary and who now has so much more power! But she brings it with such conviction that her lies are not questioned by those who apparently need that feeling of false security,instead of hearing mental alarm bells. When the plumber tells you ‘of course I’ll fix it, not to worry’ you know – should know – that something is very wrong indeed.
    And yes, Orwell was a genius. The world already has become one in which alliances change day by day, anything to keep the wars going – and the cash rolling in – no matter the configuration. And no matter the blatant lies used to justify the continuous rebranding of friends & foes and eventually even doing away with the need to justify anything at all.
    All his books are great, including less famous ones such as Birmese Days or Down & Out in Paris & London.

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    1. Yes, he was so perceptive. “Animal Farm” is excellent; my students, who were not big readers, learned much from it. “Homage to Catalonia” and “The Road to Wigan Pier” are also outstanding.

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