“The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started.”
An apt description, I think, of the re-election campaign kickoff event held last night in Orlando by The Corrupt One. Of course, the quote is from George Orwell’s 1984 and not the The New York Times, although the Times’ lede wasn’t bad: “President Trump delivered a fierce denunciation of the news media, the political establishment and what he called his radical opponents on Tuesday as he opened his re-election campaign in front of a huge crowd of raucous supporters by evoking the dark messaging and personal grievances that animated his 2016 victory.”
In 1984, the Two Minutes Hate is a daily ritual during which Party members are whipped into a frenzy of hate, screaming at broadcast images of the primal enemy of the state, Emmanuel Goldstein, a former high-ranking Inner Party member who turned against the state. Goldstein is the source of “[a]ll … crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations.” To hate Goldstein is to love the Party, to love Big Brother, who will protect one and all from Goldstein’s treason. It is an essential element of the Party’s unceasing efforts to control the very thoughts of the population.
Trump’s campaign rallies are very much Two Minutes Hate sessions, with many additional minutes. The enemy in Trump’s case, of course, is the entire Democratic Party. Trump’s language is clearly aimed at turning Democrats — or anyone opposed to his governance or re-election — into enemies, not mere political opponents. His exaggerated, heated language is intended to engender true, visceral hatred for anyone and anything not Trump. From last night’s campaign rally:
Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage and want to destroy you, and they want to destroy our country as we know it … They would shut down your free speech and use the power of the law to punish their opponents. They would strip Americans of their constitutional rights while flooding the country with illegal immigrants … Our political opponents look down with hatred on our values and with utter disdain for the people whose lives they want to run.
Those Democrats sure are a dangerous lot, aren’t they? But do the people attending these rallies really believe the Dems are that dangerous, do these people truly swallow Trump’s accusation that the Dems are pledged to the destruction of this country?
It doesn’t matter whether or not they really believe it. They will get caught up in the frenzy of the moment and join in the hate. It is why they attend.
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. ~George Orwell, 1984
If you’ve ever seen a video of a Trump campaign rally, Orwell’s description of the crowd’s mood won’t be unfamiliar.
Where is all this ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness headed? We still have 503 days until election day, after all. Not to any good place, I’m afraid.
In a timely bit of analysis, the Pew Research Center today released the findings of an extensive public opinion survey it conducted during April and May. Pew polled over 10,000 people on their reactions to the heated political rhetoric of our current era. Not surprisingly, people are bothered by it. A lot.
Donald Trump is a major factor in people’s views about the state of the nation’s political discourse. A 55% majority says Trump has changed the tone and nature of political debate in this country for the worse; fewer than half as many (24%) say he has changed it for the better, while 20% say he has had little impact.
Perhaps more striking are the public’s feelings about the things Trump says: sizable majorities say Trump’s comments often or sometimes make them feel concerned (76%), confused (70%), embarrassed (69%) and exhausted (67%). Public Highly Critical of State of Political Discourse in the U.S.
The one attitude that is most widely shared in the poll is the threat that heated rhetoric will lead to actual violence. According to Pew, “A substantial majority (78%) says ‘heated or aggressive’ language directed by elected officials against certain people or groups makes violence against them more likely.”
Describing Trump’s campaign stump speech as heated or aggressive would be an understatement. He is inciting violence. We’ve already experienced a number of deeply disturbed people acting on their Trump-inspired impulses. We’re going to see more violence before this campaign is over.
As Orwell said in his classic essay, Politics and the English Language, “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”
The Hate has started.
Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie @ Flickr / CC BY 2.0 Graphic: Pew Research Center