Orwell Redux


Okay, so I am getting over my depression, but not my fear. Running the US is not like running a business. Appearances really matter. The events of the last few days should serve as a warning for those who voted for Trump looking for understanding and relief. The appointments of more very wealthy folks who are, perhaps, even more out of touch with your concerns than the so-called elites you voted to oust. And there are many more to come.

Last night Ruth and I and friends went to see the moving, Loving, the story of the successful Supreme Court case than threw out state laws banning interracial marriage. As we walked out, I wondered if we would have to go through all of that again. Since Loving, we have freed others who seek loving (small “l”), committed relationships to realize their deepest intentions. Care for others beats all the trumped up reasons that stand in the way. I have written about care as the most basic of the human essence. Nowhere is it more evident than in the cases where two human beings who do not fit the mold of the majority exhibit the deepest form of caring.

That we see this evidenced in these loving acts and lives is better proof than all the theory or philosophy I and others use to establish our claims about care as underpinning human existence. I am very concerned that the inclusion of relationships that do not fit the mold of those holding political power has been endangered. Certainly the rhetoric of the election process suggests that, and the lack of explicit repudiation of that rhetoric reinforces it.

If I had to find a single word to describe the reasons that people voted for Donald Trump, I would pick care or, better, the lack of it from both the public and the private sectors. One could hear in all the news stories, “Nobody cares about me.” Ironically, the predominant anger was directed against the government when it should have been aimed at the private sector. Ironic because this is the selfsame set of institutions that is supposed to be the savior. Jobs are not lost because of the government. Jobs disappear as a natural process of capitalism and free market economies. They are supposed to as technology makes work more and more efficient.

Jobs go as the wealth produced by the economy goes disproportionally to the already wealthy. If it were not for public policies that attempt to level the playing field, the imbalance would be even greater. Trade deficits are indicators that we in the US buy more from abroad than we sell. That is the result of the availability of cheaper goods than we can produce even if our economy is more efficient. Efficiency cannot beat lower wages at come point. Putting tariffs to level the playing field would make it much harder to buy the goods that the poorer people do have. Those who voted for Trump should do an inventory of what they own and count up comes from overseas.

I used irony above but should really use a word with a much more sinister tone, doublespeak. George Orwell especially and others warned us against what has become known as “doublespeak.” Here’s its definition from Wikipedia:

Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs, “servicing the target” for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning (e.g., “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language.

Orwell, the author of 1984 where this idea of doublespeak became well known, wrote in a more academic piece,

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible … Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness … the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, …

The word “insincerity” jumps out. Perhaps there have been other elections where insincerity and outright lying have been greater, but not in my quite long lifetime. I have voted in 16, maybe 17 Presidential elections and cannot remember one that came close to this. Orwell’s novel ends very badly for those concerned with authoritarianism and freedom. The danger of being bamboozled grows immensely when the press is a captive of the authorities or vice versa. I doubt if Donald Trump has ever read 1984, but, judging from the attacks against a responsible and free press, some of his advisors and plotters have. Now with technology enabling the ease of capturing the sources of truth by malicious or Machiavellian interests, protecting and supporting sources of information reflecting reality is essential. Reality may not be what is used to be, but there is a real difference between those to try to speak truths and those that deliberately do not.

Thinking about all those that think they “won,” I believe that will be bitterly disappointed or worse. I also believe it is already too late to do much about forestalling the disappointment. But is it not too soon to assure that there are strong and independent voices that will not allow the inevitable anger be directed at the wrong targets. History points to the extraordinary threats to freedom when it does. Given that some of this has already begun, those that treasure their own freedom should/must protect the freedom of those unjustly being blamed or risk losing their own.

Photo: George Orwell