The emperor’s new tone

I didn’t realize, until his first coronavirus task force press conference in many months, that Donald Trump had a firm enough grip on reality to be scared. Trump is all-of-a-sudden on board with social distancing, hand-washing and (gulp) wearing masks! In fact, to hear him tell it, he’s always been on board with social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks.

Or is it that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia? The narrative coming out of the White House these days is getting so Orwellian (that is, even more so), the gaslighting so intense (you can practically read by it), the doublethink so all-pervasive — that I’m starting to question my grasp on reality.

But Trump has a new tone and a new attitude. He denies it, of course. That would be tantamount to admitting he’s wrong. But his change in attitude is contrived to persuade us that he’s a real leader after all, and that contrivance will last just long enough to get him re-elected. Heaven help us if he is re-elected, because he will never be even remotely controllable to this extent again.

Trump will soon be gone, and it couldn’t have happened soon enough. I think we are all at the end of our elastic limit for enduring gaslighting. It doesn’t seem possible that so many people could still believe him. I’m reminded anew of Orwell’s “1984,” where Winston Smith hears from the telescreen that Big Brother is increasing the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week, when he knows perfectly well that the government had just in fact reduced it from thirty grams to twenty:

Yes, they swallowed it. Parsons swallowed it easily, with the stupidity of an animal. The eyeless creature at the other table swallowed it fanatically, passionately, with a furious desire to track down, denounce, and vaporize anyone who should suggest that last week the ration had been thirty grammes. Syme, too-in some more complex way, involving doublethink, Syme swallowed it.

Was he, then, alone in the possession of a memory?

But that’s what happens when gaslighting occurs en masse. Sometimes you don’t even require the threat of instant vaporization for noncompliance, sometimes the psyche simply stops responding to what meagre outrage it can produce. We all just get weary, ultimately, of saying “no.” Or, we become increasingly willing to concede a minor point in order to make a major point so often that, inch by inch, the major points become no longer worth the effort and we give up.

The good news is we probably won’t have to put up with this much longer. Imagine it yourself, a real press secretary standing at the podium and telling the ladies and gentlemen of the press the real truth. And a real president owning his mistakes, living in reality, and unwilling to permit four years of a previously lowered bar to change the standard for truth he’s embraced his entire life.

So the emperor can have his new tone for the moment. I see it for what it is, and I am confident that I am not alone in the possession of a memory. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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