“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading,” Donald Trump said Tuesday night before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, “is not what’s happening.” For some the pronouncement conjured the old saw about what the man, caught en flagrante delicto with another woman, said to his wife, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” For others the image was far more terrifying and freighted with the Orwellian invocation of dystopia. “The party,” Orwell wrote, seventy years before, “told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
For Donald Trump, a man so mired in scandal and criminal corruption, there may in fact be no choice but to resort to such invocations. His is a presidency that requires nothing short of a contradiction of pure Orwellian opposites to sustain it, the presidency of “War is Peace,” the administration of “Freedom is Slavery.”
When Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Communications Director Bill Shine sat CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins down on Wednesday and told her she was banned from the White House Rose Garden event simply because Trump didn’t like some questions she asked, the Trump juggernaut got just a little scarier and crept once again just a little closer to that Orwellian dystopian idea.
That’s how it happens, an inch at a time, and in the Alternative Truth Era where nothing means anything and everybody’s an expert on everything, it’s terrifyingly easy for Trump to pull it off. Not even a visionary like Orwell could have foreseen the devastating impact of social media where every voice is equal — and all-too-frequently wrong. So when Donald Trump tells us “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” how are we supposed to know what is happening? Presumably when Big Brother tells us?
Americans have always prided themselves on their freedom and their capacities to decide such questions for themselves. Trump is telling us and convincing some that’s no longer necessary, re-engineering the struggle for political power into a struggle for sanity, a struggle for the ultimate fate of knowing. Those of us who really do understand — that which we’re seeing and that which we’re reading really is that which is happening — may be in real danger of extinction. So long as Donald Trump remains in power, the party for “Ignorance is Strength” will continue to increase in both.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.