• Gail Wilson Kenna

A short "borrowed" review of George Orwell's 1984

Earlier this Sunday I began wrapping Michiko Kakutani's book, Ex-Libris, for a friend's 80th birthday. "100 Books to Read and Reread," is the subtitle of a book written by the former chief book critic of the New York Times. I liked what Kakutani said about 1984 and will quote her words, assuming her blessings by noting her recent bestseller at the end.

"In January 2017, the month Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as president, George Orwell's novel 1984 (first published in 1949) shot to the top of best-seller lists. Readers recognized that the dystopian novel---about a totalitarian state in which Big Brother uses lies, propaganda, and the sowing of hate to enforce the Party's absolute rule---held a frightening mirror to a political landscape increasingly filled with what Margaret Atwood once called Orwellian "danger flags."

The Trump administration has shamelessly used what one of the president's aides called "alternative facts" to defend its perverse decisions on everything from immigration policy to the reversing of regulations designed to protect the environment. Trump's barrage of lies, which continued to accelerate during his presidency, resembles the Kremlin's "firehose of falsehood" in Vladimir Putin's Russia: they not only promote misinformation, but are meant to foster the sort of numbness and cynicism that discourage people from caring about the political process.

During the first three years of Trump's presidency, many readers noticed other ominous echoes of 1984 as well: shameless appeals to fear and resentment (what Orwell described as daily "Two Minutes Hate" sessions) in an effort to divide the public; deliberate attempts to rewrite history and current events while denouncing the mainstream media as "fake news"; and the sidelining of science and evidence-based arguments because such empirical methods of thought suggest, in Orwell's words, that "reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right." In 1984, these are all tactics used by Big Brother to control the population, to insist that "whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth---even if it chooses to insist that "2+2=5" or that "war is peace," "freedom is slavery," and "ignorance is strength."

In a 1944 letter, Orwell explained why he was writing the novel that would become 1984. He wrote that he was concerned about "the general indifference to the decay of democracy" and that he worried about the tendency of nationalistic movements "to group themselves round some superhuman Führer" and "to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means." With this, he added, came the proclivity "to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit with the words and prophecies" of one of these demagogic leaders. /Seven decades after the publication of 1984, remarks made by President Trump and his enablers sound as if they were lifted from the pages of Orwell's classic. / "What you're seeing and what you're reading," Trump declared, "is not what's happening." His lawyer Rudolph Giuliani had these chilling words: "Truth isn't truth."(end of MK's short review)

Note: Michiko Kakutani is the author of the bestseller: The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.

Next week: How Rebecca Solnit in Orwell's Roses led me beyond a limited reading of 1984.

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