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.