Perhaps even more eerily accurate and increasingly prescient with the passage of time than George Orwell’s 1984 is his essay entitled “Politics and the English Language.” As only Orwell, in all his deftness, could describe the core of the problem of how we wield language, he commences the thesis as follows:
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
First published in 1946, just after the end of World War II, when theoretically, the world was supposed to have learned from the insidious tactics of mind control that it fell for to lead them to the point of the genocide of six million people, this idea that words are used–which often means not used well–for very strategic aims in causing general confusion, therefore resignation, has somehow only become more valid as the decades have passed. There is no more apropos example of late than the demagoguery of one, Donald Trump (even though demagogue feels like too gentle of a classification for someone who “seems harmless enough” as a result of his buffoonery). His happenstance wandering into the political arena has benefitted, more than any entity, Middle America and the Bible Belt, where the dependency on drilling in ideas with no factual basis or clarity (i.e. the bible) into people’s heads is a part of day-to-day living. Yet, most recently, the person that has profited the most, at least publicity-wise, is Kanye West, himself an agile master in the art of spouting word salad that he must surely feel sounds grandiose and poetic.
As though to iterate Orwell’s point in terms of deciding to go further off the deep end in his barking and egregious forms of verbal communication (most recently at the Oval Office), it is said that: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
There was no stronger evidence of that as West took hold of the spotlight at the White House to detract from the primary purpose of being there, which was, ostensibly, to show support for the Music Modernization Act. Instead of letting this historical change for the music industry and the betterment of songwriters’ rights to royalties in a world long dominated by lawless digital sales take precedence, West found it more important to let his own “personal” meeting with “the president” outshine it all, allowing his non-penchant for the English language to wow the only other person of late who has muddled it so outrageously.
West, thusly, sat (and occasionally stood) to give us the soundbites–for there is no greater indication of the destruction of language and context than the soundbite–“In an alternate universe, I am him” and “We have to make Middle America strong again–and because I had the balls to put on this hat–I mean this adidas thing made me a billionaire, and I could’ve lost two hundred million dollars walkin’ away from that deal, but even with that, I knew it was more important for me to take the chance of walking away from that deal than to have no fathers in Chicago with no homes, and when we do have prison reformation–because it’s, it’s habilitation not rehabilitation because they didn’t have the abilities in the first place…”
And so his “dialogue” continues to jump around from bringing jobs to America to the thirteenth amendment to metaphors of a trap door to problematic mental health care diagnoses (he’s just sleep deprived not bipolar). Disjointed to the point of sheer nonsense, West nearly puts Trump to shame with his effusion of nothingness. Then again, perhaps if the “thoughts” were better organized verbally, they would mean something. But that goes against the entire definition of being a public figure inserting himself into the realm of politics.
A maestro in doublespeak and contradiction, Trump has made such outlandish statements as, “Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry. My relationship, I think, is going to end up being very good with women.” To this point of non-clarity, Orwell pinpoints four characteristics common to the non-sentence/speech: dying metaphors, operators or verbal false limbs, pretentious diction and meaningless words. While neither Trump nor West would be immediately associated with pretentious diction, in their own minds, they likely believe that they sound highly intelligent. And both are constant users of verbal false limbs, defined by Orwell as, “…sav[ing] the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad[ding] each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry.” West himself was fond of the dying metaphor by continuously comparing the thirteenth amendment to a trap door, asking of nobody in particular: “Would you build a trapdoor that if you mess up and you accidentally something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber? You gotta remove all that trapdoor out of the relationship.” Yes, Orwell is cringing to the point of crinkling the sky from the great beyond.
Within the framework of the essay, Orwell also handpicks five sentences in particular from varying sources of an “erudite” tone and subsequently accuses each one of having the same issue: “quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”
If it sounds like most of the sentences (to a tee) that come out of West and Trump’s mouth, then you’re finally catching on. Except, strangely enough, by many of Orwell’s rules for making language more concise, Trump is somewhat following the advice, boiled down to:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.
Clearly, it’s that last rule that has made Trump fail in Orwell’s eyes (not to mention West, for blurting out, “crazy motherfucker” in a space once slightly considered hallowed). That, and being a despicable orange blob with a black hole that won’t stop emitting heinous noises interpreted as orders to make America worse than it ever has been.
And yet, Trump must continue to say something to attempt carrying out his racist, classist and misogynistic legislation promises, made solely because language and writing “at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”
Even more eerie in the accurate parallel it draws to Trump all the time and the sight of West in front of Trump is Orwell’s description of the type of drone politician that makes one get the “curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s [eyes] and turns them into blank discs which seem to have [nothing] behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.”
It’s not certain who has chosen the words for West or Trump (try not to delve too deeply into any illuminati theories), but whoever it was is making a mockery of Orwell’s urging to use “language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”
Anyone who determines that this is not precisely what Trump and our next potential president West are doing might very well be one of their cud-chewing supporters. Or simply the type of delusional non-voter who would rather not, to use a cliche Orwell would despise, vote for the lesser of two evils. But as Orwell reminded constituents all the way back in 1946, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.” Evidently, all of these nouns came together to provide ample personification of meaning in the meeting between two of the biggest believers in the meaninglessness of words.