By John Newsinger
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Orwell or Carroll?

This article is over 5 years, 9 months old
Issue 439

Many people have turned to George Orwell and his novel Nineteen Eighty Four for assistance in trying to understand the Trump presidency and its implications for both the US and the wider world. This is a mistake. Orwell certainly offers insight into the activities of the many Big Brothers who have paraded on the world stage since he wrote the novel, but if the truth be told, Big Baby is completely beyond him.

Orwell could never have imagined anything like Trump; a lying, bullying, cowardly, sexist, racist reactionary egomaniac hotelier and golf club owner living in a fantasy world all of his own as president of the United States, still the most powerful country in the world!

Orwell would have dismissed the very idea as too far-fetched to even have any comic value, let alone being able to offer any political insight.

Instead, to get the measure of Donald Trump we have to turn to Lewis Carroll. When Orwell looked in the mirror he saw a grim reflection of a world where the Russian Revolution had been betrayed, where Stalinism had corrupted much of the left and a police terror had been imposed over Eastern Europe. This was the world that informed Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.

Lewis Carroll, however, was able to step through the looking glass into another world altogether and then to vanish down the rabbit hole to a world where Trump would feel completely at home.

Indeed, if Carroll were writing today the assumption would be that he was deliberately satirising Trump and his administration. “Curiouser and curiouser” certainly seems to sum up the Trump presidency, and the Republican Party has clearly been transformed into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

But what about the other insights that Carroll has to offer? In many ways the 45th president can be seen as an amalgam of characters who inhabit the two Alice books.

It is hard to believe that Carroll did not have Trump in mind when the Queen of Hearts proclaims that “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” or when Humpty Dumpty explains that “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

And surely it was Trump rather than the Queen of Hearts who said that, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” It is not that he is in anyway “strange…my reality is just different from yours”.

Trump would, one feels, certainly sympathise with Alice when she remarked that she “knew who she was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then”. Indeed, he is “never sure what I’m going to be from one minute to another”.

And, of course, Carroll has captured his somewhat limited literary tastes: “And what is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?”; and his somewhat limited vocabulary: “I don’t know the meaning of half those long words.”

It was surely Tweedledee who produced the perfect response to the Russian collusion allegations that have so dogged Trump: “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.”

And if that doesn’t work there is always the ultimate sanction: “Off with their heads!”

One important difference is that Trump is not something we are all going to wake up from. He and his kind are a very real threat we are going to have to do something about.

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