Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Ministry of Truth: George Orwell Predicted the Post-Truth World That is George Bush Junior's New Museum

George Bush Jr. is one of the worst presidents in the history of the United States. The extreme political polarization of the country, the Right-wing echo chamber and news complex, and a frightening level of anti-intellectualism among the general public, have together encouraged a detachment from empirical reality by conservatives (as well as some liberals and progressives).

The election of the country's first black president--twice--further encouraged a system shock to the cognitive map and thought processes of the herrenvolk Tea Party GOP. This pushed them even farther into crazy town and their conspiranoid fantasies of Birtherism and other related nonsense.

In an era where all opinions are ostensibly created equal, a claim is "true" just because one says it is. Can We the People ever recover from this turn?

Moreover, those in the media and public life (more broadly) who dare to demonstrate how cherished conservative beliefs such as how tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans pay for themselves and somehow "trickle down" to the rest of us; global warming is a hoax; austerity and budget cuts in a time of economic contraction will create jobs; America is essentially a "center-right" country; and the Republican Party's policies are overwhelmingly popular, are mocked and smeared as "biased."

These are facts to be damned. Truth-tellers who expose the empty magical thinking that drives contemporary conservatism, and bathes what are the equivalent of members in a political coven and cult in a warming glow, are viewed as heretics.

This dynamic is encouraged by how Americans are an ahistorical people with a limited attention span.

George Bush Jr. was president little more than 5 years ago. While many would like to erase him from memory through an act of collective amnesia, the harm done by his policies have been long-lasting.

It one thing to write a hagiography for a president who is dead. Historians love to resuscitate the legacies and memories of leaders whom they believe could benefit from a "long view" and reassessment in light of current events.

George Bush Jr. is still with us. But, his supporters have built a museum that actively seeks to reinvent his legacy by misrepresenting the facts and context of his failed presidency, and the decisions he made while in office.

This move pivots on a dastardly fulcrum of a political lie: if Obama, for conservatives and the New Right, is the worst president ever, then by necessity George Bush Jr., his Republican predecessor, must have been misunderstood (and under appreciated) in his greatness.

George Bush Jr.'s museum is a mating of living history and the skillful manipulation of public memory.

To point. While attempting to write a counter-narrative for his panoply of failures, his museum asks visitors to put themselves in the place of the former president:
In a new brick-and-limestone museum, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?
The hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history.
This question plays on the worst type of populism. Complex policy issues are reduced to simple choices. A public which has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to grasp complex issues is put in a position where the disastrous and ill-advised choices of a president are legitimized, because to Joe Q. Public such problems are "hard." These same voters do not have the experts, professional bureaucrats, and advisers that George Bush Jr. had at his disposal. Yet, we are to sympathize with the difficulties of his choices, as though they were made alone.

The feting of Bush by his petit authoritarian public is the political equivalent of those sad souls who go to the creationism museum, believing that people rode on the backs of dinosaurs, and that the planet Earth is only 6,000 years old.

In the Washington Post, Bush acolyte Jennifer Rubin plays this role perfectly:
Why the shift? Aside from the “memories fade” point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff — rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass. 
Hey, he’s not so bad! In fact, to some degree his qualities and accomplishments were taken for granted. Only when we see a robotic, cold president like Obama do we remember fondly the tender, tearful love of country Bush often conveyed and the steely anger directed at our enemies. Only when a president completely bollixes up our relationship with both the Palestinians and the Israelis do we recall how warm and productive was our relationship with the Jewish state under Bush and how Israel proved willing to take “risks for peace” under the right circumstances. And only when we see our current president kick our friends and kowtow to our foes can we fully appreciate a president with strong personal bonds with leaders (e.g. Tony Blair) and fierce determination not to appease our foes. 
All of this will infuriate the left and enrage the far right, the latter of which has taken to treating Bush as if he were some combination of LBJ and Woodrow Wilson (who is not a positive figure in conservative circles). Bush’s shortcomings (misreading Putin, leaving office without dealing with Iran, some excess in domestic spending) are evident. But other supposed sins are in retrospect less attributable to him personally. (Many Western governments believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Bush actually tried to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae but was blocked by Congress.) And in the “polarizing” category, Obama is far worse.
Ugly stuff, the equivalent of slash fiction for conservatives.

In George Orwell's prescient novel 1984, he described a government bureau whose purpose was to rewrite history. 

The Ministry of Truth's function was to make sure that language, art, books, and the mass media echoed the approved narrative offered by the State. This involved the invention of language--Newspeak--and a rewriting of history to serve some present need. Bush's museum is the fulfillment of that vision:
The primary job of the Ministry of Truth was to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programmes, plays, novels - with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child's spelling-book to a Newspeak dictionary. 
Winston worked in the records department (a single branch of the Ministry of Truth) editing and writing for The Times. He dictated into a machine called a speakwrite. Winston would receive articles or news-items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, in Newspeak, rectify. If, for example, the Ministry of Plenty forecast a surplus, and in reality the result was grossly less, Winston's job was to change previous versions so the old version would agree with the new one. 
This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs - to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance.
Those who go to George Bush Jr.'s museum, for purposes other than mocking laughter are internalizing a false narrative. They are reproducing a lie as truth; the lie is also reinforcing their standing priors. There is no need for the character Winston. The petit authoritarian who has nostalgia for George Bush Jr. is a living vessel of propaganda. He or she is a walking and talking incubator for lies.

Politics is about passion, emotion, and opinion. The ranking of presidents is a subjective process.

But, this is not the equivalent of arguing over the merits of a sports team's future prospects, or if Star Wars is better than Star Trek. George Bush Jr. launched disastrous and unnecessary wars on the public's dime, his incompetence allowed September 11th to occur, furthered a disastrous maldistribution of wealth from the poor and working class to the very rich and the plutocrats, and legitimated a reign of terror and torture done in the twin names of "national" security and the "American people" in countries all over the world.

An effort to find merit in George Bush Jr.'s presidency is trendy and good sport among conservatives.

Professional contrariness can pay professional dividends and get one a certain amount of attention. And of course, those believers in a lost cause desperately yearn for history to judge them right and correct in hindsight. The American people live in the shadow of George Bush Jr.s' incompetence and destructive domestic and foreign policies.

Here, we are not arguing about the merits of avant-garde film, if B-movies should be part of the canon, or if Plan 9 From Outer Space or Night of the Trifids are "great" movies that were ahead of their time.

George Bush Jr.'s malfeasance killed many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people. He ruined lives and broke the American economy. He should be thrown down the memory hole...and even that gesture would not correct the harm his policies have done.

Museums should serve the Common Good and be places where questions about public memory are debated, contested, and worked through in a critical manner.

George Bush Jr.'s Orwellian museum serves none of these functions. In a righteous world, his museum would be a site that both warns and cautions us about public incompetence, and all that can go wrong when a boy king is made President. In the world in which we live today, the public is denied that lesson.


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Michael Varian Daly said...

Yes, to everything you said...and Obama Inc. is continuance of all that with only a small modulation of frequency.

Mary K Croft said...

Dallas PD had outlawed a certain protest group from being anywhere near the Museum on its opening day, or indeed any day leading up to it. That was last week, when there were arrests for trespassing and... ahem... panhandling. The group sued in Federal district court. That judge decided that, with suit pending, the Dallas PD did not show compelling reason for their predicted traffic disruption and the protesters could go ahead and be there as planned. This messed up the local idea that there would be no dissenting views allowed, another form of Newspeak and dystopian totalitarianism. Sometimes the system actually works.

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nomadfiles said...

I'll have to come back and read the rest of this later. It's hard to continue after stumbling on this falsehood:

"Barack Obama has spent much of his two terms trying to undo them."

After all you have observed over the past 5 years, don't believe this?

Lee Viola said...

Correct. Check out today's Democracy Now! interview with Jeremy Scahill. Obama's abuses of Executive Powers concerning many acts of aggression exceed even the loathsomeness of the Bush Thugs.

nomadfiles said...

Yes, and Chauncey is aware of all this. I don't believe he believes "Barack Obama has spent much of his two terms trying to undo them."
So, the question becomes "Why are you lying to us, Chauncey?"
'Ministry of Truth' indeed. I wonder what Obama's LIE-brary will look like.

nomadfiles said...

Pshaw!!! If George Bush was as bad as all that; how much worse is the president who continues and expands his policies? Especially a constitutional lawyer, who presumably knows better? Bush and Obama. The Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Presidential Evil.

chauncey devega said...

As I said before. Your ods is in full effect. I need to start treating it more aggressively.

nomadfiles said...

If by that you mean censorship, be my guest. Desolationist.

nomadfiles said...

Another admin deleted comment. Somebody doesn't seem able to handle the truth. BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!

Miles_Ellison said...

I find it interesting that Obama is being criticized for continuing GWB's policies, yet some of these critics had nothing to say about those same policies for the previous 8 years.

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Cavoyo said...

For those of you complaining about Obama, the North Texas Dream Team is going to be protesting his presence at the Bush Library opening tomorrow. They want a moratorium on deportations until the immigration system is fixed. If you hate Obama so much, why don't you join them?

Steve Davis said...

"Legitimized," not "legitimated"! :-)

Ricardo Salinas said...

Republicans would nail up their pointless little saviours in exchange for tax breaks for the filthy rich.

William Lamm said...

All that needs to be said about the Bush era is he was SO bad the GOP wouldn't even invite or mention him at their conventions.

Grant said...

I'm curious about why you call him "George Bush Jr." throughout the whole article. He isn't a Junior.

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