Doublethink

Alan Zendell, April 28, 2017

“Doublethink” is a word coined by George Orwell in 1984. It’s similar to the word “doublespeak,” but there are important differences. “Doublethink” means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accepting both as true (http://www.orwelltoday.com/doublethink.shtml). “Doublespeak” means using words to conceal or misrepresent the truth by disguising, distorting, and reversing their meaning,  and the use of euphemisms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublespeak, www.dictionary.com/browse/doublespeak).

From the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was variously accused of lying and exaggerating to stir up his base. Since his inauguration, his style has had to evolve. He frequently contradicted things he said during the campaign, but these days every media outlet has a clip of every word he uttered, and the constant airing of his contradictions may have been a key reason that he’s been unable to expand his base of support. The aura of a candidate who believed he could say anything and get away with it got old quickly. Remember when he told a rally of 20,000 people that he could shoot someone on the streets of Manhattan and no one would be able to touch him?

The Donald Trump who has been serving as president has very publicly admitted that the job is a lot harder than he thought. He must have learned everything he knew about being president from watching The West Wing on television. The kind of evolution he’s been using lately is admitting he was wrong about something without actually taking responsibility for all the things he said that weren’t true. Someone has convinced him that fessing up to being wrong would endear him to the average American. If only it were that simple.

The Trump who campaigned was a nationalist, through and through. The Trump who decided not to withdraw from NAFTA is a globalist. When the press challenged him about that, yesterday, he said, “I’m both.” If that’s true, we who have never trusted him may have to revise our view of him.

It’s easy to call him a liar and a panderer, not that the people who voted for him seemed to care about either. But is it true? The comment about simultaneously being a nationalist and a globalist might be an example of doublethink, which would be a very different thing. Think about it. What if he truly believes he’s both? Would that make him more trustworthy and predictable or less?

Combined with his use of doublespeak (see above), of which he appears to be a master, I think that makes him an enigma. He’s much more than the billionaire tycoon and the media buffoon whose persona he has adopted. When he spent more than a year bragging about what he’d accomplish in his first hundred days and then, after dissing that as a fair measure of progress, he trotted out an inflated list of accomplishments to prove he’s done something, my first thought was, “Who does he think will buy that?”

We know his base will, and only time will tell if anyone else does. But I wonder if Donald Trump himself buys it; or is this just an example of doublethink? It’s an important point. If he’s exaggerating, distorting, and obfuscating, that would fit right into the view of him that sixty percent of America has had from the beginning. That sixty percent will continue to discount him and write him off as a showman of little substance. But maybe that’s not right.

First, while many of his executive orders have been pure fluff, and his two most public ones have been stopped by the courts, some have very quietly changed the playing field. With little fanfare, he granted individual states the power to gut a vital provision of Obamacare, though his own party can’t agree on how to modify or replace it in legislation. And regardless of court rulings, efforts to locate and deport illegal aliens have been greatly stepped up. So don’t scoff too hard at how ineffective he’s been.

The more important question may be what it means to have a president capable of believing totally contradictory ideas without noticing the contradiction. I don’t know what to call that, but I find it scary. Combined with having no moral center and an extremely narcissistic view of the world, there’s simply no telling what goes on in his head at any given moment. Perhaps in his mind, Vladimir Putin is both an admirable leader and an untrustworthy snake, and Xi Jinping is both a manipulative adversary seeking only to weaken us and an international partner we can count on to act for the common good.

If it’s true that Trump’s decisions tend to reflect the opinions of the last people he spoke to, we have to hope the people with the levelest heads are always the last ones to leave the room. I find all this more unsettling than believing he simply has no respect for the truth.

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