When my wife was undergoing her chemo treatments earlier this year, she’d have to see a lot of different medical personnel to get updated labs and imaging to monitor her progress, and also to make sure she was healthy enough for the infusions.
She frequently saw the same medical technician for a certain procedure, so they started up some conversations. The tech would talk about how slammed the entire hospital system was throughout Ohio because of the coronavirus pandemic. This was when the outbreak was relatively new and many medical facilities, especially in larger cities, were shell shocked and unprepared.
The tech would attest to the horrors they had seen at various hospitals because of COVID-19 and the poorly coordinated federal response, but, at the same time, would tell my wife what a good job President Donald Trump was doing in handling it all. My wife rarely engages strangers, or anyone, for that matter, in political discourse, but she had to ask this person how they could believe that Trump was handling it well, given the president’s downplaying of the virus at the time, the uncoordinated federal response and what the tech’s own eyes were telling them. The tech replied that the president didn’t need to be truthful about what was happening, because Trump’s primary job was to spread positivity.
Now, we could argue all day about whether “positivity” is in the manual for president, or if this president ever exhibits whatever you imagine “positivity” to be. But for a medical professional to admit the situation is out of control but laud Trump for taking charge, then pivot the argument, is a pretty good example of doublethink — the ability to possess directly contradictory views at the same time, or to adopt new ones on the fly, disregarding plain facts, previous views or historical context.
The term “doublethink” and similar variations, come from George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” It’s a tale of a dystopian future where the populace is kept under the thumb of an authoritarian regime and conditioned to accept whatever government message is conveyed, even when it directly contradicts a previous message.
Another good example of real-world applicability is when West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched to the Republican Party in late 2017. State GOP officials and politicians had been conducting mass social-media attacks against the governor daily. As soon as the governor switched parties, most of those same people rushed to scrub their accounts, including fusillades they had launched that very day, and immediately began to heap praise on Justice.
These things indicate to me that, more and more, the person or the platform doesn’t matter. Hypocrisy doesn’t matter. Truth doesn’t matter. It’s simply about what team you’re on. Do you wear a red hat or a mask? Do you support throngs of people illegally pulling down monuments or federal agents with no identifying markers on their uniforms gassing Americans so the president can have a picture taken in front of a church?
Modern politics — left or right — is about taking something complex and boiling it down to a slogan that can fit on a bumper sticker or in a tweet. Life doesn’t actually work that way. I believe most people are still somewhere toward the middle on a lot of issues. They have reasons for what they believe, and how they arrived at those beliefs can be fairly nuanced.
Unfortunately, today’s political landscape gradually pushes us into one trench or another, and, eventually, many end up adopting a value system wholesale. We’re then primed to be enraged by things we don’t really even care about. Critical thinking suffers. Doublethink creeps in. And once we stop caring about what is real, true and observable, we become malleable to more authoritarian or contradictory ideals — if the person commanding our trench is the one making the rules.
Our system is broken. It promotes leaders who promise easy fixes when we know such plans are impossible. But we buy in still. It won’t stop until we demand more than catch phrases and rage tweets from our leaders, turning us against one another.
We still have the power to determine how our country is run, but that window will close, if we allow it.