Editorial: ‘Newspeak’ in the Trump era
In George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, he creates a tyrannical government ruled by Big Brother, the party leader who, says Wikipedia, “enjoys an intense cult of personality.” A central part of party rule was the control of thought, from which sprang the popular terms: doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and others. The book also popularized the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, describing official deception, secret surveillance and manipulation of recorded history, while “thoughtcrime” was a term describing any thought alternative to the party’s construct, which is dealt with by harsh measures or intimidation.
This is most relevant today not because of any undemocratic actions, but because Trump has the ability to control the political agenda through his own forms of speech and communication: mainly through Twitter, exaggerations, wild claims and a general disregard for objective truth. And while others, including this paper, are busy challenging his statements and correcting the record, he blithely ignores factual inaccuracies and leads the public’s attention onto the next chaotic charade.
So far, though he has yet to take office, it has proved effective. He can claim modest success in cajoling a few American industries to adjust plans to move jobs overseas and keep the jobs at home. But in understanding his accomplishments in fact, versus what he claims to have done, Americans must learn to be vigilant in their efforts to seek the truth.
This past week, for example, Trump claimed that it was his personal influence that prompted Ford Motor Company to abandon its plans to build a $1.6 billion factory in Mexico, and instead use a portion of that money to expand production in Michigan and Illinois. Well, not exactly. Economics had more to do with Ford’s decision than anything Trump said. “The reason that we are not building the new plant (in Mexico),” said Ford chief executive Mark Field in comments to his employees as noted in the Washington Post, “is that demand has gone down for small cars.”
The decision also reflects Ford’s move to build more electric-powered cars, hence the new investment in higher-tech plants in Michigan and Illinois that also demand higher-skilled American workers. While Fields said 700 new jobs would be created, he also said that production of Ford’s Focus would not shift to the U.S., but rather would be shifted to an existing Ford factory in Hermosillo, Mexico. All of those decisions, said Joseph Hinrichs, president of Ford in the Americas, were made without Trump’s input.
Meanwhile, Trump also took aim at General Motors for producing the Chevrolet Cruze models in Mexico and selling them in the U.S., issuing what was an idle threat on Twitter: “(either) make in the USA or pay big border tax!” he ordered with his chest pumped out and scowl on his face. Facts are, however, that almost all of the 190,000 Cruzes sold in the U.S. were made at a plant in Lordstown, Ohio. A hatchback model is made in Mexico, but of the 25,000 produced only 4,500 were sold in the states. The Cruze has also suffered from weak sales, resulting in the cutting of a third shift in Lordstown and a loss of 1,245 jobs out of its 4,500 current positions. Odd, isn’t it, that Trump didn’t tweet about those job losses?
Similarly, Trump has boasted of bringing back 5,000 jobs with Sprint, which was not the case; and saving 1,000 jobs at the Carrier plant in Indiana, which turned out to be 800, and involves a heavy state and federal subsidy (that means you and I are paying for saving those jobs in Indiana) that Trump has yet to reveal.
What this says about a Trump presidency is that voters have to be vigilant about reading all sides of the news and to take what he says with a healthy dose of skepticism. And that’s OK. Hey, if he helps save a few jobs here or there and it is sustainable, we’re all for it. But we also have to put the current news in context. Ford’s CEO noted this week they were proud to have created 28,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the past five years — all under President Obama’s watch., a fact he did not highlight.
Readers, in short, need to learn how to parse the immediate news (fact from fiction), then put it into context, to understand the impact on the country, all while watching out for “fake news” meant to confuse and misinform.
We are heartened, actually, that Trump scolded the GOP House for attempting to shutter the one quasi-independent office that investigates House ethics. In a brazen move on Monday, Republican leaders met in secret, then unleashed a surprise move to effectively defang the Office of Congressional Ethics. The proposed rules change would have, according to the New York Times, prevented the office from investigating “potentially criminal allegations, allowed lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee to shut down any O.C.E. investigation, and… gagged the office’s staff members in their dealings with the news media.” The O.C.E. was established in 2008, when Democrats controlled Congress, after a series of bribery and corruption scandals tarred both political parties, but Republicans have been seeking to curb its influence ever since.
House Republicans backed off when they were deluged with outraged constituents, and later when Trump tweeted his disappointment in their choice of priorities.
Importantly, Trump’s tweet did not chastise the Republican Party for trying to kill a worthwhile office, but rather criticized that it was their first priority, suggesting that killing the O.C.E. was something they could do later. And in a bit of Orwellian “newspeak,” House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested that the rules change would improve “due process,” while Rep. Goodlatte insisted that the proposed neutering of the office would “build upon and strengthen” it.
This is the language, and the tactics, Americans can expect under the current leadership. It is incumbent upon voters to pay attention and react accordingly.
Angelo S. Lynn