I’ve been thinking more about the Republican ouster of Liz Cheney yesterday. It’s passé to point out the corruption of the Trump Republicans and of politicians in general because it’s not really news that elected officials of both parties flip flop. It is even taken for granted now that most Republicans have done some pretty impressive ethical gymnastics since Donald Trump took the controls of the party, but the move to dump Cheney seems particularly problematic. Then it hit me.
A few days ago, I detailed how Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had described the Facebook Oversight Board’s decision to uphold Donald Trump’s ban from the platform as “Orwellian.” I’ve read and enjoyed several of George Orwell’s books, particularly “1984” and “Animal Farm,” so I spotted Cotton’s error immediately.
I’m the proud owner of a 1980s-vintage dictionary and it can be very interesting to compare definitions from the old tome with modern definitions from internet dictionaries. Among the words whose meanings have changed dramatically are “gender,” “marriage,” and even “genocide.” Another that we might add to the list is “Orwellian,” especially if people like Tom Cotton have their way.
In Cotton’s usage of the word, “Orwellian” seems to be a synonym for an action he doesn’t approve of by big, scary entity, but that doesn’t convey the more specific message of Orwell’s writing. Specifically, George Orwell’s works warned against totalitarianism and all-powerful, authoritarian governments.
Orwell was concerned about tyrannical governments, while Cotton’s diatribe is directed at a private company, albeit a large one. Even though Facebook is a large, multinational corporation, it has nowhere near the power of a national government. Facebook cannot control speech in general, it can only control its platform. The company can lobby for laws and rule changes, but the government is clearly above Facebook in the pecking order.
As I pointed out last week, what Cotton and his cohorts want is the opposite of what Orwell wanted. Republicans like Tom Cotton want to give government bureaucrats veto power over the free speech rights of social media companies. They want to give the government more power to control speech on the internet, in this case by forcing the Facebook to give Donald Trump a platform. That would be Orwellian.
Orwell’s unseen antagonist in “1984” was “Big Brother,” a despotic ruler who heads the government of Oceania. Big Brother may not actually exist, but woe to those who cross him. To have a leader of a party or nation who controls thought and allows no dissent, that is Orwellian.
In Orwell’s dystopian world, leaders take advantage of their positions to enrich themselves and to protect their friends and their power. When presidents are allowed to do whatever they want without consequences, when “some animals are more equal than others,” that is Orwellian.
From there, I remembered a passage from near the end of “1984” that seems appropriate for this week. When the protagonist, Winston Smith, was arrested and subjected to re-education by the Party, he realizes, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Isn’t that what Republicans did this week?
Over the past few years, I’ve heard many Republicans charge that the movement to take down Confederate statues is an attempt to erase history. I’m a Southern white boy and the descendant of Confederate soldiers, but I can see the difference between erasing history and endorsing a rebellion. I love history and I honor the memory of my great-grandfather and other Confederate forebears, but I’ve long said that the disposition of Confederate memorials should be a local issue and that Confederates should be remembered in the context that some were good people who fought for an evil cause. Some were not good people at all.
Acknowledging reality is not erasing or whitewashing history. It’s confronting it head-on.
It is erasing history to say that Donald Trump didn’t lose the 2020 election, however. It’s also erasing history to deny that the former president’s supporters tried to stage a coup to overturn the results of the election, a frontal attack on the Constitution. It was Liz Cheney’s refusal to accept these lies that led Republicans to reject her.
In other words, the Republican leadership, at the behest of Donald Trump, wanted Cheney reject the evidence of her eyes and ears and accept the whitewashed version of history that happened less than six months ago.
The Republicans want Cheney- and the rest of us – to forget that we saw mobs of MAGA protesters go directly from a Trump rally to attack the hallowed halls of Congress. They want us to reject the evidence provided by Trump supporters from across the country who photographed and live-streamed themselves in the Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the president-elect and, by extension, the constitutional process.
That is Orwellian.
Over the past five years, I’ve watched the Republican Party change from a party of self-proclaimed constitutional conservatives to a personality cult. It was bad when President Trump ignored the law and Republicans refused to hold him accountable. It was much worse when Trump refused to accept the election results and goaded his supporters into attacking Congress.
But now, in adopting a fictional version of history and punishing people who tell the truth, the Republican Party has sunk to new depths. The Republican Party’s most essential command is that we ignore the reality of what we saw and forget the history that played out on our televisions. The Republican Party is excusing the criminals who launched the insurrection while attacking those, like Liz Cheney, who tell the truth about Trump’s attempt to seize power.
That is Orwellian.
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