1984 and the Trump Era
George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, is the story of Winston Smith, a man who lives in the totalitarian state of Oceania. The novel, which was written in 1949, serves as a warning against the abusive nature of totalitarian governments, governmental tyranny, propaganda, and historical revisionism, and has recently surged in popularity throughout the country. Many believe the new popularity is directly correlated to Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential race.
According to Craig Burke, the publicity director at Penguin USA, demand for the novel surged after Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to the Trump administration, interviewed NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 22. When asked about the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer’s false claim that President Trump’s inauguration had attracted the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration,” Conway argued that Spicer was not giving false facts, but rather “alternative facts.” This statement has been criticized and labeled “Orwellian” on social media.
Even before his inauguration, Trump and his staff repeatedly accused the media of false reporting and continually slammed major media organizations such as CNN and the New York Times. On Feb. 6, Trump tweeted “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election,” suggesting that, according to him, any empirical suggestion that his policies may be unpopular is false.
Despite President Trump’s known displeasure in reading, some are turning to books to explain Trump’s rise in popularity or his emergence as a political leader. Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, a novel written in 1935 about the rise of an authoritarian fascist leader in the U.S., is also gaining popularity. Similarly, J.D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, became a bestseller among those seeking to understand rural American voters. Although these books cover different topics, each offers insight on recent political events and issues in the world.
In 1984, Orwell writes, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.” The U.S. may not be a totalitarian government, but the majority of what Trump or his administration state is represented as facts without credible evidence to support it. In today’s society, many consider anything posted on social media to be fact, but is fact something supported with information from reliable sources, or is it just something anyone says that is simply accepted? As the U.S. enters a new moment in history, books can perhaps serve as an insight into recurring societal trends and help us understand why.