In the first week of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 jumped to the top of the best-seller list on Amazon.com. Why the sudden attraction to an almost 70-year-old warning about the dangers of totalitarianism that introduced the idea of “Doublethink” and the language of “Newspeak”?
With the understanding that correlation does not mean causation, it is difficult not to conclude that President Trump’s performance during his first days in the White House – a tone-setter during which, among other things, he presented us with the patently false notion that the crowds who attended his inauguration were the largest ever, and declared war on what he terms the “dishonest media” over its debunking of that claim amid other perceived sins – was behind the new interest in the old classic.
Of all the Trump vs. the media conflicts that flew out of his very first days, the inaugural attendance kerfuffle was the most head-scratching. What did Trump think he had to gain by asserting, against unassailable photographic evidence, that there were more people present to witness his swearing in than, for example, Barack Obama’s in 2009?
Hard to know that answer. Possibly more relevant, however, is this question: What, in his political calculus, did Mr. Trump think he had to lose in his bald-faced prevarication and assault on the media?
The answer to that question in Mr. Trump’s mind could well be “nothing”, and he does have a case. After all, isn’t his base is large, loyal and loving? Doesn’t his Twitter following rival the collective audience for the three major broadcast network newscasts on any given weeknight. Weren’t his fitness for office, his policies, and his promises “litigated” with a verdict in the affirmative by his electoral college victory?
Even Mr. Trump’s harshest critics generally concede that he could (as he bragged during the campaign) walk out onto Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, gun someone down, and not lose voters.
It is probably the case that, short term, President Donald Trump might well have little to lose in political support from a war with the media where he and his team feel free to stretch facts to the breaking point or throw them out altogether.
Longer term, however, not so much.
As his administration moves forward, Mr. Trump should be careful. The “post-truth”, “alternative fact” Doublethink and Newspeak of today might be effective for a while, but there’s a flip side to the hustle. Sooner or later, many Trump supporters, particularly those who gave their votes tentatively for lack of a better option, will not back someone who seems to be vying for the title “Liar in Chief.”
The rust-belt constituency that won him the Oval Office voted Trump’s way not only for economic reasons, but also because it was fed up with the politicians’ same old, same old lying bullshit. Those voters have not lost their sense of smell or their critical intelligence.
In the first week of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 emerged as a global best-seller. It’s a good bet that there are Trump voters from Warren, OH to Wausau, WI among the book buyers.