If Big Brother does one thing well, it’s stay on message. Big Brother has a consistent voice. Big Brother would not allow the FBI director to testify before The House Intelligence Committee. Big Brother would not allow for broadcast of the hearing. Big Brother would cancel the hearing and air two minutes of hate. Big Brother does not exist. We are not living in “1984.”
Like a lot of Americans, I revisited “1984" after 20 years on the shelf. The most in-vogue dystopian novel is popular for obvious reasons. Orwell’s view isn’t even his most apt for these times (that would be “Animal Farm”). It may seem like we’re living in a time of Newspeak and never ending war, but we’re not headed to Oceania.
While he may surround himself with men that thrive on fear, Donald Trump does not come from a world of Big Brother. In his 40-plus years in the public spotlight, Trump doesn’t associate with despot leaders, at least in terms of politics. So what piece of literature best fits these not exactly troubling times? Look past the leader and to his Office of Management and Budget director.
Trump’s budget is a wish list. Every president’s budget is a wish list. It represents what he wants to do, not what he will achieve. So what does he want to do? According to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great — again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion to. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, ‘look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work’ — I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore.”
We cannot defend that anymore. That sounds familiar. It sounds like the entire title of Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.”
One of the main themes of “1984" is the party crushes opposition. If you watch any cable news, the party isn’t exactly sure what to crush. Are they supposed to crush Trump’s allegations of wiretapping? Are they supposed to crush former President Barack Obama? The story itself? Is it Trumpcare or Ryancare? Other than Russia, they’re not exactly sure who to target. The main theme of “A Modest Proposal” is don’t be poor. That’s the Trump administration’s theme, too.
For better or worse, Trump could never serve Big Brother. He has no discipline and craves the spotlight. His wiretapping Tweetstorm proves this. So does nearly every other Tweet and speech and interview. His mailing list also showcases a lack of discipline. And a lack of reading. Or understanding of satire.
Last Friday’s 1600 Daily email included a link to Alexandra Petri’s column “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why” from The Washington Post. Either the Trump White House didn’t click through and read the story or they do not understand satire. Because Alexandra Petri is a very fine satirist. And her column is satire.
If this was “1984,” the first travel ban would still be in place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wouldn’t have recused himself and Trump wouldn’t be Tweeting. Big Brother does not exist. Meals on Wheels does exist. According to the White House, the program that has proven itself as a help to the poor doesn’t actually help the poor. It’s doublespeak that doesn’t understand satire. We are living in “A Sincere Modest Proposal.”
Are the dominant emotions from the Trump administration fear, rage, triumph and self abasement? Mostly. But the biggest on display is insecurity. It’s difficult to run a successful authoritarian campaign when the leader can’t keep his own fears in check. It’s a lot easier to not feed the poor.