Alan Zendell, November 20, 2020
If you’re old enough to have read 1984 in high school (well before 1984 actually arrived) you probably remember how chillingly reasonable it sounded. Writing in the years immediately after World War 2, George Orwell meant it as a warning, the same alarm Sinclair Lewis sounded a decade earlier with It Can’t Happen Here. Both men were cautioning against complacency, the belief that nothing would ever threaten the American republic. Fascism, they told us, is a seductress, sneaking up on democracy, waiting to take advantage of any crack or weakness in its foundation.
Last evening, journalist David Gregory said it perfectly. Orwell’s dystopian Britain as seen from 1949 was enabled by “the loss of objective truth.” Orwell coined the terms “Doublespeak” and “Doublethink” to explain what that meant. As I wrote in April, 2017, three months into Donald Trump’s presidency, they both undermine objective truth in different, complementary ways. Doublethink means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accepting both as true. Doublespeak means using words to conceal or misrepresent the truth by disguising, distorting, and reversing their meaning, and the use of euphemisms.
Donald Trump seems to have incorporated both words in his limited vocabulary. He is a master of Doublespeak, in fact, it may be his singular talent. Doublespeak occurs through deliberate action, but Doublethink is more complicated. Trump haters explain the ease with which he flips from one point of view to its opposite as evidence of his lack of respect for the truth, but I wonder if he is aware that his words contradict each other so frequently. His behavior is so feral, I question whether he is even capable of acting rationally. Is he a fearless counter-puncher who never shrinks from a fight or is he an out-of-control child who can’t control his impulses?
We’ve had these debates ever since Trump exploded on the political scene, but they’ve never been more meaningful than they are now. His behavior since losing the election to Joe Biden has literally been an attack on objective truth. In one sense, it’s the same thing he’s always done, using phrases like fake news and alternate facts to obscure reality. But in another, it’s far more dangerous. Four three-and-a-half years, he has chipped away at the Constitution and long-established political and social norms. Even his supporters don’t deny his lies and his disregard for the rule of law. He lost the election largely because millions of politically unaligned Americans were horrified enough by his behavior to turn against him.
But nothing he did prior to the election compares to what he is doing now. The curtain has been pulled aside, there’s no pretense any more. With the lives and health of millions of Americans in the balance, with our economy desperately in need of financial support for small businesses and the workers they employ, Trump is involved in his most cynical behavior yet. Showing no interest in the business of being a real president since November 3rd, he has devoted all of his energy to hamstringing the Biden administration before it begins. So what if another quarter of a million Americans die, if 100,000 businesses fail, and if lines of cars at food banks extend for miles?
Even more important, what if he actually succeeds in undermining Americans’ confidence in the legitimacy of their government? The idea that Americans didn’t consider Trump a legally elected president is a paranoid fantasy straight out of Trump’s twisted psyche. We may have hated the idea, but we accepted it, and if Trump had shown any inclination to preside over all Americans instead of just his base, we’d have applauded him. But for Trump, the only way to compensate for his baseless fantasy is to spitefully try to delegitimize his successor’s election.
This is not reality TV. Nor is it a game of unbridled competition in which the only objective is to win. I believe the people who supervised the election did so with complete integrity. Every Secretary of State who has spoken about the election, Republican or Democrat, has said the same thing: all legally cast votes were counted and there was no evidence of significant fraud. I don’t believe it will happen, but if Trump is able to bully or bribe Republican legislators and Governors to reverse the results in states he lost, it will be a mortal blow to the Constitution and every ethical standard of behavior.
I am long past hoping that Donald Trump is either capable of or willing to do the right thing. I hope Mike Pence has the stones to do what’s necessary if Trump crosses any more lines.