A recent New York Times piece, titled, Why ‘1984’ is a 2017 Must Read, is a bit much. Of course, we could all benefit from the prescient writing of Orwell. I confess, however, that the opening line elicited a groan of exasperation- “The dystopia described in George Orwell’s nearly 70-year-old novel “1984” suddenly feels all too familiar.” Suddenly?
I’ve no problem saying that a Trump presidency could create Orwellian scenarios. The article makes an interesting case for such a possibility. I object to the notion that we are only recently faced with invasive, authoritarian government. President Trump didn’t arise from a political vacuum. Political writers (including a few from the Times) have argued that Trump’s presidency is all the more alarming when you consider that it is following decades of unchecked abuse of the Executive office.
I was introduced to Orwell by the late Christopher Hitchens. I think he would have argued that we’ve been neglecting Orwell for quite some time.
Set aside for a moment Trump’s low character, his penchant for inflaming racial tensions, his personal corruptions. Assume for the sake of argument that all that can be folded into a “lesser of two evils” case.
What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face?
I think we have seen enough from his campaign — up to and including his wretchedly stupid conduct since the first debate — to answer confidently, “No.” Trump’s zest for self-sabotage, his wild swings, his inability to delegate or take advice, are not mere flaws; they are defining characteristics. The burdens of the presidency will leave him permanently maddened, perpetually undone.
~ Ross Douthat: Trump and the Intellectuals. This is Douthat’s response to the recent statement signed by ‘Scholars and Writers for America’. Read the whole piece. Alan Jacobs concurs. I’d like to hear from you if you disagree, because I seriously don’t understand the commitment to supporting Mr. Trump along these lines: “most likely to restore the promise of America.” (!?)
Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.
~Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, (emphasis mine)
This paragraph points to what a liberal arts education is all about. Freedom of the mind does not equal intellectual obstinacy- it is a historical awareness that frees us to see our place in the history of ideas. Bloom’s point is easily seen in our political landscape. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proclaimed that his campaign signals the beginning of a political revolution. Revolution. Maybe our situation warrants this kind of change, but I doubt it.
My guess is that his supporters (comprised mostly of my generation I’m told) don’t have the sense of historical backdrop with which to compare their own political ideology. ‘Radical’ and ‘revolutionary’ are terms that might excite a young movement looking for something to live for, but we need to be able to properly judge whether we’re trading one tyranny (whether real or imagined) for a worse. Bloom says that endeavor will require an education.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear:
[T]here will be others (many others) who will adapt to the prospect of a Trump administration with remarkable flexibility. Where there is money, where there is power, powerful rationalizations will necessarily follow. The throne rooms of history have more than once been occupied by miscreants and demagogues, and whenever that happens, the number of flattering courtiers does not go down.
~ Doug Wilson on Blog & Mablog