2016 = 1984?

I read a number of really good takes on Mike Pence’s denials of so many things that Donald Trump had incontrovertibly actually said.  All I could think of was Orwell’s 1984, where the protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the “Ministry of Truth” constantly re-writing history to serve the ideological needs of the Party.  (I re-read this year and loved it– found it a bit of a slog as a teenager). Now, the Republican Party is not exactly Big Brother, but there is definitely something inimical to a healthy democracy with what’s going on here.

Fabulous piece from Paul Waldman:

To put it simply: There will be no reckoning with what Republicans have done. There will be no accountability, no comeuppance, no penitence, no purges, no grappling with how they sold their souls to the most despicable and dangerous presidential candidate in modern history. Heads will not hang in shame, fingers will not point at the guilty, excuses will be neither demanded nor offered. Once Trump loses, the entire GOP will join hands and wade together into the baptismal waters of a new day and emerge clean and pure, their sins washed away by a collective agreement to pretend the whole thing never happened.

If Trump does lose, we’ve assumed there will have to be some serious soul-searching on the right, and there will be — but it will be circumscribed in this critical way. They’ll wonder and argue about how they can reach out to minority voters, or how they might appeal to the young, or what combination of strategies might put the battleground states they keep losing back in play. But one thing they won’t do is hold themselves to account for standing behind Trump.

They all know who he is — that he’s an ignoramus, that he’s a liar, that he’s a bigot, that he’s a vulgar sexist, that he’s a con man who ropes ordinary people into scams and cheats the small-business people who do work for him, that he has the attention span and impulse control of a toddler, and that making him the most powerful human being on earth is not just a bad idea but outright lunacy. But each for their own reasons, they lined up behind him. His stench will be on all of them, so the best thing for them will be to say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about — I don’t smell anything.”

If Mike Pence can get up in front of 50 million people and deny that Trump ever praised Vladimir Putin or said women should be punished for getting abortions, or even say that Trump isn’t the one running a campaign of insults, how hard will it be for other Republicans to act like there was nothing unusual about their party’s 2016 nominee and nothing they have to distance themselves from?

And Frum:

The Trump candidacy succeeded because of a massive revolt among rank-and-file Republicans against their leaders. Should the Trump candidacy fail, as now seems likely, those leaders stand ready to deny that the revolt ever happened. Instead, they’ll have a story of a more or less normal Republican undone only because (as Pence said last night) “he’s not a polished politician.” The solution for 2020? Bring back the professionals—and return to business as usual.

It’s unlikely to work. But you can understand why it’s an attractive message to a party elite that discovered to its horror that it had lost its base and lost its way.

Now, the term “Orwellian” gets thrown around a little too easily.  But that’s exactly what’s going on here and we need not just the Clinton campaign, but journalists to call out the Republicans for this.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to 2016 = 1984?

  1. ohwilleke says:

    In some sense it is the inverse of 1984. In 1984, the media really was making everything up and rugged individualists managed to circumvent it to find the truth. Now, the media is basically telling the truth about everything and something on the order of a third of American voters absolutely do not believe anything it tells them because they are convinced that it is all false propaganda.

    • Steve Greene says:

      To be fair to these Americans, there is a major political party and right-wing media machine dedicated to helping them in this regard.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        Yes, that right-wing media machine was prepping the base for the Trump candidacy since Reagan, Turns out that riding the tiger is still a very dangerous thing, in this case the tiger being the GOP’s hyped up base.

  2. itchy says:

    Yes, Waldman nails it. I haven’t bought any of the predictions of Republican soul-searching. Just as they’ve (mostly) unified behind Trump, they’ll move past him and on to the future without guilt or blame. There will be no sea change, at least not from the top.

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