Trump’s ‘1776 Commission’ is Exactly What Orwell Predicted

In the country of Oceania, the setting of George Orwell’s prescient 1949 novel 1984, the Ministry of Truth is charged with the role of re-writing history according to the Inner Party’s ephemeral political interests.

Ministry of Truth employees must be prepared at all times to publicly elevate former traitors to the status of heroes and discount former heroes as traitors.

Any facts that violate the Party’s propaganda are discarded down the “memory hole,” expunged forever–or at least until the Party determines it is advantageous again for people to accept.

Propaganda is, of course, not new.

Although connotatively negative, it can be employed positively at times.

Every industry uses propaganda in some way to consciously or unconsciously influence public option.

It is not the exclusive province of government.

Orwell, however, was satirizing how government propaganda can be used as ways to control messages so a society being governed remains obsequious or frightened, docile or patriotic, apathetic, violent, or consumeristic.

The United States has engaged in its share of this propaganda.

Last week, it opened its own Ministry of Truth.

At a speech at the National Archives on Thursday, Donald Trump proclaimed:

 “Leftwing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. [T]he crusade against American history is toxic propaganda [that] will destroy our country…Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes, and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country. We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.” 

Pushing back against The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” dedicated to chronicling the country’s history beginning the year Europeans shipped the first enslaved Africans to American shores, Trump announced the formation of the “1776 Commission.”

Trump specifically maligned late historian Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States, accusing it of being “propaganda” meant to “make students ashamed of their own history.”

Back in 2009, during an interview with Democracy Now!, host Amy Goodman asked Zinn to comment on the frequently asked about whether or not it is appropriate to be so critical of the government’s policies and its traditional heroes.

Zinn replied:

“We should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

“We don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines.

“Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn…that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

“There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. There are the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known.”

Trump’s timing is significant.

The education system is particularly vulnerable at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic having relegated students to “virtual,” or online, instruction.

With charter-school darling Betsy DeVos exploiting her position heading the Education Department to weaken public education, Trump’s propaganda campaign is another weapon against educators, predominantly Democrats, who are, according to Trump, “forcing Marxist critical race theory into our children’s schools.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch ripped Trump apart Friday:

“Remember that he repeatedly claimed that Article II of the Constitution allows the president to do whatever he wants. Clearly he has never read Article II. Do you think he knows that federal law prohibits any federal official from interfering with curriculum or instruction in the schools? Obviously not, but if he knew, he wouldn’t care since he is convinced that he is above the law.”

Former dean of the University of San Francisco School of Education, Kevin Kumashiro, added:

“Not surprisingly, it is this whitewashed curriculum that often gets framed as objective and neutral, whereas efforts to raise awareness about the discomforting realities of race and racism get framed as, in Trump’s words, ‘toxic propaganda.'”

We must stop repeating the line “He can’t do that.”

Over the past four years, Trump has demonstrated his disdain for the rule of law and governmental norms, with the full, tacit support of a Republican party that felt his obstruction of Congress and abuse of power for which he was impeached last year weren’t enough to boot him from office.

Make no mistake–

Trump’s “Ministry of Truth” is another rung in fascism‘s ladder.

As Guardian writer Arwa Mahdawi stated:

“Whenever Trump comes out with an outrageous plan there are always people rushing to point out that he won’t actually be able to follow through with it; that checks and balances will stop him. But Trump has already stormed through many of these checks and balances; he’s already normalized behavior that would have brought down any other president. If he gets another term there are no limits to what he might do; hello re-education camps, goodbye reproductive rights! And that, ultimately, is what his speech on Thursday was about; it wasn’t so much about American history as it was about America’s future. It was a promise to his base that he will Make America White Again.”

This is a harbinger of what’s to come if Trump wins another term.

It will get worse.

Orwell warned us.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.