This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
In the first paragraphs of George Orwell's famed novel 1984, Winston Smith slips through the doors of his apartment building, "Victory Mansions," to escape a "vile wind." Hate week -- a concept that should seem eerily familiar in Donald Trump's America -- was soon to arrive. "The hallway," writes Orwell, "smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats." Smith then plods up to his seventh-floor flat, since the building's elevator rarely works even when there's electricity, which is seldom the case. And, of course, he immediately sees the most famous poster in the history of the novel, the one in which BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. ("It was one of those pictures... so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move.")
Now, imagine us inside our own "Victory Mansions," an increasingly ramshackle place called the United States of America in which, like Smith, we simply can't escape our leader. Call him perhaps "Big Muddler." He may not be looking directly at YOU, but he is, thanks to a never-ending media frenzy, remarkably omnipresent. Go ahead and try, but you know that whatever you do, however you live your life, these days you just can't escape him. And if Donald Trump's America isn't already starting to feel a little like that ill-named, run-down building in a future, poverty-stricken London, then tell me what it's like.
Can't you feel how rickety the last superpower on planet Earth is becoming as our very own Big-Muddler-in-Chief praises himself eternally for his "achievements"? Here's just a small sample from a recent graduation address President Trump gave at the Coast Guard Academy. (You know, the one where he so classically claimed that "no politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly"):
"I've accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as president. Jobs pouring back into our country... We've saved the Second Amendment, expanded service for our veterans... I've loosened up the strangling environmental chains wrapped around our country and our economy, chains so tight that you couldn't do anything -- that jobs were going down... We've begun plans and preparations for the border wall, which is going along very, very well. We're working on major tax cuts for all... And we're also getting closer and closer, day by day, to great healthcare for our citizens."
This is, of course, all balderdash -- from the "big, fat, beautiful wall" the Mexicans were going to finance, for which he's requested $1.6 billion in the next budget (compared to the up to $67 billion it might actually cost) and which he's unlikely to get, to those scam jobs supposedly flooding in thanks to him. His urge is clearly to establish a fantasy America, a true Victory Mansion (undoubtedly with his name in golden letters above it) in the potential ruins of the country we once knew, which would indeed be an Orwellian trick of the first order. In the meantime, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon points out, President Trump and his coterie of cabinet plutocrats and advisers have been doing Orwell one better and, 33 years after 1984 passed us by, are in the process of creating their own memory hole down which they plan to stuff reality itself. Tom
Down the Memory Hole
Living in Trump's United States of Amnesia
By Rebecca Gordon
The Trump administration seems intent on tossing recent history down the memory hole. Admittedly, Americans have never been known for their strong grasp of facts about their past. Still, as we struggle to keep up with the constantly shifting explanations and pronouncements of the new administration, it becomes ever harder to remember the events of yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.
The Credibility Swamp
Trump and his spokespeople routinely substitute "alternative facts" for what a friend of mine calls consensus reality, the world that most of us recognize. Whose inaugural crowd was bigger, Barack Obama's or Donald Trump's? It doesn't matter what you remember, or even what's in the written accounts or photographic record. What matters is what the administration now says happened then. In other words, for Trump and his people, history in any normal sense simply doesn't exist, and that's a danger for the rest of us. Think of the Trumpian past as a website that can be constantly updated to fit the needs of the present. You may believe you still remember something that used to be there, but it's not there now. As it becomes increasingly harder to find, can you really trust your own memory?
In recent months, revisions of that past have sometimes come so blindingly fast that the present has simply been overrun, as was true with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. First, the president ordered up some brand new supporting documents from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. These were designed to underpin his line that Comey was fired on their recommendation -- for being "unfair" to Hillary Clinton. Then, even as his surrogates were out peddling that very story, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that, "regardless of [Sessions' and Rosenstein's] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey." And he explained why:
"And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won.'"- Advertisement -
Which rationale for Comey's departure is true? Both? Neither? What is "truth" after all?
When the need to ask such questions occurs once in a while, it's anomalous enough that we notice. We have time to remark that someone or various people in this story -- Sessions, Rosenstein, the surrogates, Trump himself -- are mistaken or even lying. Fortunately, in the case of Comey's firing, journalists are still reporting the lies, but what happens if the rewrites of our recent history begin to come so fast that we stop keeping up?
During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson was famously said to have a "credibility gap." People, including journalists, had stopped believing everything his administration said about one very important topic: the war. Trump doesn't have a credibility gap; he's tossed us into a credibility swamp. We're all there together swimming in a mire of truth and lies, with the occasional firecracker thrown in just to see if we're still paying attention.