As politics in America deteriorates to what has been described by some historians as its most tribal and divisive level since the 1850’s, the very idea of facts have come into question.
Cries of “fake news” or “liberal bias” meet every critical analysis of President Donald Trump, no matter how steeped in documentable evidence that analysis may be.
And if Trump popularized the term “fake news” to dismiss criticism or unfavorable analysis of himself, his administration and policies, the idea has been lovingly embraced by a Trump base of support increasingly mired in a cult of power and personality that has been cultivated around him.
Without the blink of an eye, Trump supporters accept notions of “alternate facts”, “which truth?” or even Trump’s assertion that you “cannot believe what you see or read (about the national economy)” but only what you are told by the president or his administration spokespeople.
Which, one might ask, is a greater threat to the American Republic – a president mired in an increasingly apparent web of legal jeopardy and personality disorders triggered into hyper-drive by public scrutiny of that jeopardy, or those who enable and justify his behavior regardless of consequences or facts?
Ah, but that silly little problem – “facts”.
As the end of the second decade of the 21st Century approaches, exactly how are facts determined in American public life?
We may be 34 years past 1984 but we seem to be slipping backward in time toward that ominous George Orwell prediction penned in 1948 of an English-speaking totalitarian state called Oceania where “Big Brother” and his State operatives define reality for its people.
To determine factual content versus non-factual assertions in any sphere from scientific to political analysis, two important intellectual qualities are required – the ability to think critically and to objectively analyze the information present in the equation you are trying to solve.
In the Orwellian world of “1984” such critical, analytical thought is increasingly impossible.
For starters, because it is not tolerated and is violently suppressed in the bowels of the Ministry of Love, the government agency responsible for law and order – but at a deeper level in the world of “1984” the party leader “Big Brother” and his state political apparatus are moving its population toward a variation of its native English language, to “Newspeak” where words and phrases can mean their opposite and where independent or dissident thought has no verbal framework for expression.
How far, one might ask, are some of us in today’s American political landscape from blind acceptance of “Newspeak” principals like “Ignorance is Strength”, “War is Peace” or “Freedom is Slavery”?
Russia collusion; obstruction of justice – “Fake News”
Potential presidential lies to federal investigators – “Which Truth?”
And the recently offered presidential notions that transferring money from a private source to suppress negative stories prior to the election “is not a crime” or that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election on his behalf is “illegal” – “Alternate Facts”
But as noted above, the ability to re-define reality for others can be achieved in multiple ways. For Winston, the Party dissident of “1984”, it was achieved through torture. O’Brien, the party official responsible for Winston’s torture and reintegration into society, begins with a simple exercise in the nature of truth.
“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” O’Brien asks.
“Four,” Winston replies.
“And if the Party says that it is not four but five – then how many?”
Winston’s reply of “Four” launches him on a path of pain that will lead to “enlightenment” – enlightenment as it is defined by the State.
Eventually O’Brien explains the intellectual “mistake” that has led Winston to this point, alone and at the mercy of a State that will not and cannot accept a non-sanctioned perception of reality or a truly objective appraisal of facts:
“You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right … But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston.”
O’Brien asks Winston to repeat a Party slogan at the root of their conflict:
“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
And eventually after days, weeks, months – Winston was never sure how long he was being tortured in the bowels of the Ministry of Love – and his fateful trip to Room 101, he finally comes to terms with reality as it is defined by the State.
And in that moment of final surrender Winston understands – there is no future other than pain, only worse unendurable pain in his questions about the State and the nature of truth – a “truth” that he was responsible for helping manipulate for the masses in his job at the Ministry of Truth – the government department responsible for dissemination of “news, entertainment, education and the fine arts”.
And in that moment Winston, who had only sought inter-personal love and the objective truth behind the State veil becomes free, a free advocate of Big Brother and the State.
“Slavery is Freedom”
How far from this dark scenario are we allowing ourselves to be placed when without a blink we can accept a presidential order and Ministry of Justice, oops I mean Justice Department decree that children, including infants and toddlers, be ripped from their parents arms on “legal” pretenses in order to deter future immigration and refugee efforts by certain kinds of people from certain parts of the world?
With over 500 children still detained without parental contact for months despite the passing of a court-ordered deadline they be reunited, one might see the State questioning beginning in detention centers out of the public eye, as Winston’s was in the windowless Ministry of Love:
“You want to come to a nation historically known as a beacon of freedom and second chances to the world, parentless child?” – It is a question likely also posed to those children’s now-missing parents prior to State-ordered deportations without their children.
And for both child and parent, the final question posed by State interrogators would be:
“How many fingers do you see pointed in this direction, toward the U.S. border?”
And despite history to the contrary and the still-beckoning hand of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, the correct answer now for those at our southern border can only be, “None”.
I wonder, for how many of U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s political support base does the phrase “Torture is Justice” make perfect sense?
When power for power’s sake becomes the driving force of partisan politics; and when support of one’s political Party rests on a cult of personality and tribal allegiance steeped in ignorance (“I have the most loyal people – where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay, it’s incredible”) and fear (They’re stealing my chance at the American Dream) and negative stereotyping (They’re all rapists and gang members), how far are we from George Orwell’s nightmare vision of the rise of an English-speaking, Western totalitarian State – a State beyond accountability, beyond human compassion, beyond facts?
Never forget, citizens of Oceania – “The Truth is a Lie” and “Ignorance is Strength” …
(This is the opinion of the writer)