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Saturday, 28 January 2017 06:46

Orwell's "1984" Becomes Bestseller in Age of "Big Brother" Trump

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.3915102132 30858c9743 z(Photo: Aaron David Aznar)

Trump's strategy of creating an alternative reality based on "alternative facts" has apparently helped catapult a 67-year-old book that takes place in a totalitarian state, George Orwell's 1984, to the top of the charts. On January 25, USA Today reported:

George Orwell's tale of a sad, grim future, the book 1984, has experienced a recent resurgence, climbing to the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list of books....

It's in such demand that publisher Penguin has ordered a 75,000-book reprint, CNN reported.

The book's plot, as Penguin puts it, features the omniscient Big Brother, mind-erasing, a new language and thought process in a post-nuclear-war world. The publisher said Orwell's "vision of an omni-present and ultra-repressive state is rooted in the ominous world events."

Sounds familiar, huh? The current administration has forbidden climate change information on agency websites (including the White House's site), banned tweeting by government departments that send messages inconsistent with Trump administration policy (as it did with the National Park Service and other government departments last weekend), and ordered government scientists not to discuss their research work publicly. These are just a few examples of information suppression. By forbidding facts and research contrary to administration policy to reach the electorate, the Trump administration attempts to grant credibility to its lies, through repetition and the forced absence of real information.

CNN reports that Penguin, the US publisher of 1984, is ordering a hefty reprint of the book to meet the demand:

"1984" tells a harrowing story within a world of government surveillance, propaganda and "newspeak." In the book, the "Ministry of Truth" actually delivers lies.

The publishing house responsible for the book noticed the recent spike in sales.

"We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week. That is a substantial reprint and larger than our typical reprint for '1984,'" a Penguin spokesman told CNNMoney Tuesday evening.

Notice CNN's abbreviated description of the book notes that it takes place "within a world of government surveillance, propaganda and 'newspeak.'" Replace newspeak with the "alternative facts" embraced by the Trump administration, and you have an inchoate version of 1984 emerging before our eyes.

In Orwell's classic book, slogans and falsehoods are repeated everywhere. They are pummeled into the minds of people, as is happening under Trump. Trump often resembles a blaring car alarm that drowns out all other noise. His untruths become the truth, because in a world where facts are devalued and are actually forbidden to be disseminated by the government, the lies -- through bombastic repetition -- become reality. In 1984, the department that is responsible for incessantly rewriting history and forbidding facts and forbidden books is called The Ministry of Truth, which in this case is The White House. This is the work of Trump and his public relations staff, including Kellyanne Conway -- who first made the argument for "alternative facts." It also includes Stephen Bannon, the white nationalist former head of Breitbart, who in an interview this week told the media "to keep its mouth shut."

The Huffington Post quoted 1984 this week, pointing to a key role of the book's Ministry of Truth: "If the facts say otherwise, then the facts must be altered. Thus history is continuously rewritten." The same article makes reference to a George Orwell essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it, Orwell wrote:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible....

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient....

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.

On January 20, we entered an era when governmental executive branch language is being used for "concealing or preventing thought." It is not as if Trump is the first president to conceal information from the public and use misleading statements, but his combination of emphatically and repeatedly asserting lies, while prohibiting government agencies from promulgating facts that are at odds with administration policy, is singularly authoritarian. There is a reason 1984 is becoming a bestseller: We are seeing political science fiction become reality, day by day.