When I was in college I read George Orwell’s gloomy and ominous novel, “1984” and while it was eye-opening, I never once considered that the totalitarian world it portrays was one that could ever materialize in America.
Today, I’m not so sure it couldn’t.
In fact, it seems to me we are already moving toward the dystopian totalitarian state of “Oceania” that Orwell so deftly describes in “1984.” While it may not be the “hard” form of totalitarianism once practiced in the erstwhile Soviet Union or in today’s China and North Korea, it is a “soft” tyranny of the ruling party—currently, the Democrat Party which right now controls two branches of the American government—the Executive and Congress.
It may not be the violent, mind-numbing oppression that the miserable protagonist Winston Smith endures in Orwell’s classic novel, but there is little doubt that in America we are already witnessing the subjugation and persecution of political enemies, the promotion of identity politics, and groupthink.
Why do I say that?
Think about the vicious marginalization and banishment of those we disagree with today via “cancel culture.” Think about the shaming and expulsion of political opponents from the public square of social and legacy media. Or think about the inflicting of economic pain through the loss of jobs in the Biden administration’s banned and forbidden industries such as coal, oil, fracking, and pipelines.
Look at the attack on the First Amendment and free speech that is occurring in America today led by Big Tech, social media, the mainstream media, and even by some lawmakers in Congress who openly embrace globalism, socialism, and communism while disparaging capitalism and free markets.
Look at the plan by the Biden administration to create a new national police agency to spy on and arrest Americans it considers terrorists, reactionaries, or extremists —an agency that sounds suspiciously like Nazi Germany’s Geheime Staatspolizei, otherwise known as the Gestapo, or like Orwell’s “Thought Police” in 1984.
Look at the indefatigable attempts to deny American history—or worse, to rewrite it, like the 1619 Project that promotes the teaching that slavery, not a quest for freedom, was the defining reality of American history. Look at Biden’s dismantling of President Trump’s 1776 Commission, which sought to restore truth and honesty to the teaching of American history to our children.
Look at the incursion of Critical Race Theory in our schools—an ideology that understands the world by viewing everything — society, economics, education, family, science — through the lens of “whiteness” and white racism. White people, according to CRT, drift in a kind of amniotic fluid of privilege and unearned gifts based on the brutal ideology of “white supremacy.” White children are effectively taught that they are guilty and irredeemable because of their “whiteness” and “white fragility.”
President Trump ordered a stop to CRT in federal agencies, but on his first day in office, President Biden rescinded the Trump administration’s executive order that prohibited critical race theory training for federal agencies and federal contractors.
But let’s return to Orwell’s “1984.” The ruling Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. The Party is enforcing the implementation of an invented language called “Newspeak,” a propagandistic language that is designed to limit free thought and promote the Party’s doctrines.
Its words include doublethink (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously), which is reflected in the Party’s slogans: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength.” The Party maintains control through its Thought Police and continual surveillance. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
Oceania is governed by the all-controlling Party, which has brainwashed the population into unthinking obedience to its leader, “Big Brother.”
American leaders are already practicing “doublethink” by simultaneously insisting that the COVID pandemic makes church services too dangerous to allow, while tacitly allowing massive protest marches, riots, and looting.
And “newspeak” has taken hold in the Biden administration. One of Biden’s recent deluge of executive orders mandates that phrases like “China virus” can no longer be used by “federal agencies in their official materials and statements.”
While the order doesn’t specifically mention “China virus,” it does condemn “the use of such phrases that refer to the coronavirus through its location of origin because they contribute to xenophobia against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”
Never mind that everybody knows that the Covid-19 virus originated in Wuhan, China. Whether in a laboratory or in a bat cave, really makes no difference. The indisputable reality is that China covered up how extremely infectious the virus was and then allowed hundreds of thousands of people to fly out of Wuhan to the rest of the world.
Now back to “1984.” Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, where he alters historical records to fit the needs of the ruling Party.
Winston is troubled by the Party’s control of history: the Party claims that Oceania has always been allied with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia, but Winston seems to recall a time when this was not true.
Truth in Orwell’s Oceania is relative and proportional to the needs of the state. Truth is something to be manipulated and employed to control the masses.
In the end, Orwell’s book is a depiction of a state where daring to think differently is rewarded with imprisonment and torture, where people are monitored every second of the day, and where party propaganda trumps free speech and thought.
Pitiable Winston Smith is a symbol of the values of civilized life, and his ultimate downfall is a harrowing reminder of the vulnerability of such values in the midst of all-powerful states and the political organizations that control them.
In short, Orwell’s 1984 is a sobering reminder of the evils of authoritarian governments, and even more concerning, it is looking more and more like an unsettling blueprint for a once exceptional and freedom-loving America.