In the terrifying final pages of 1984, Winston Smith has graduated the torture chamber of Room 101 and is undergoing a friendlier kind of cognitive therapy, led by his now kinder interrogator O’Brien. Under O’Brien’s gentler tutelage, Smith has accepted the general beliefs demanded by loyalty to Big Brother and now faces one more task. He must assent to the proposition that two plus two equals five. He cannot just mouth the words. He must really believe them, and he must believe them because they are vouchsafed by Big Brother. Once he breaks through the barrier of incredulity, Smith finds that all is possible: he really loves Big Brother.
The final, fatal scenes of 1984 were no spur-of-the moment creation for Orwell. He rehearsed their main elements in several essays throughout his career. If a leader could sway his people to deny plain, demonstrable facts, Orwell wrote, he would have destroyed the last, crucial barrier to instituting a totalitarian regime.
I have been doing a kind of therapy on myself over the last week. I can now say, in a clear, unbroken voice, “Donald J. Trump is my president.” (It’s not quite the case yet, but I believe in staying ahead of the game.) It feels good, in a way, to state the obvious truth.
I should explain how I started the week. I was more or less of one mind with David Remnick of the New Yorker, who reacted to Trump’s win with this bit of Sturm und Drang:
“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”
Liberal or conservative, left or right, I thought Trump’s personality–his politically undefined core–made him deeply, egregiously unqualified to be president. Although I haven’t been to a cry-in, I did find earlier in the week that the revulsion produced by mentally placing Trump alongside Jefferson or Lincoln nearly did draw hot, angry tears. I had to stop thinking about it.
Well, that was a week ago; it was my Room 101, if you like. (It is worth recalling what is in Room 101: the worst thing in the world.) Now I am back out in the light of day and almost enjoying the ease with which I am coming to love and accept the new truth. As reform is such a cheery business, and as I occasionally bubble over with generosity, I thought I would play the genial O’Brien for a few minutes and try to help anyone still feeling any pangs of Remnick-like “profound anxiety.”
Let’s not waste time. We might as well get straight to the plainest of facts we must learn to deny. Trump believes climate change is a hoax. The scientists are just wrong, and the political activists are trying to foist their lie on to the public. What is Trump’s evidence for this position? There is a wealth of secondary literature on the topic, which any high schooler can understand. Has Trump read any of it? Have you? No need, as it turns out. For Trump, a smirk does the job of overturning the work of science; his top advisor calls the literature on climate change “silly” and a “waste of time.”
Prepare yourself for the boldness that will be required of you. Businessman, lawyer, bureaucrat, builder, you must be prepared to burst into the science lab and declare it all wrong with a sneer. It’s wrong because you and Trump know it’s wrong. You just know it. (Is two plus two starting to look like five yet?)
It is essential for you to believe in Trump’s private genius. He has the best words, the best thoughts, the best policies. They are so refined, it is understandable that we cannot always trace the linkages he sees between goal and means, cause and effect. In fact we need not ask after the inner workings of Trump’s genius. His insight takes him into the realm of the recondite; his ways are too wonderous for us to know. But he has his ways; it is vital for you to know that.
Trump only wants what is best for you–better security, more jobs, higher pay, lower taxes. When you connect the desireability of these goals with the assurance of Trump’s political genius–so deep it requires nothing as pathetic as an explanation–you see in outline the full scope of Trump’s benevolence. It is starting to look like love, isn’t it? Surely you would love Trump in return. Surely you do love Trump.
The poet Omar Khayyam faced down zealots in his time, men who thought they knew the mind of God. In a not-quite poetic moment, he chided them that once they thought they saw the secrets of God’s mind, they were free to believe any nonsense they wished to attribute Him. Pick whatever crassly wrongheaded proposition you like, and “believe that too,” he spat.
And Khayyam was right. Once you have accepted that two plus two equals five, it’s off to the races. Pick whatever repellant, unevidenced, self-serving proposition you like and believe that too. Here are a few to try on for size: Trump respects women. He can bring jobs back. Trump has a plan. He can defeat ISIS. He is beautiful because he is rich. Trump will drain the swamp of Washington. He is a bold reformer ingeniously disguised as a reactionary tycoon. He is a Christian, a man of the people. He will make America great again.
Now you try. The sky is the limit.