American Doublethink

Doublethink, n, the acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time.

Listing examples of modern American doublethink (as developed by George Orwell in 1984) in even a cursory manner would require too much time, but out of this past election cycle there has been one particular example bandied about with disconcerting frequency: the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

  1. Lincoln was a Republican.
  2. The Civil War was caused by the failures of (northern, Republican) leadership.

On the one hand, Lincoln has to be considered among the greatest US presidents for him to be worth claiming for his Republican lineage. After all, his face is on a mountain in South Dakota and he has a Doric temple that you enter through a queer side door to see him seated in all his majesty.

On the other, though, there are people who consider the Civil War to be a war of Northern aggression and certainly a trauma in American history that the country would have been better off avoiding. Clearly it was a failure that a forceful leader would have resolved in short order.

Now, I suspect that most people in America hold one or the other of these two positions, but both have been discussed by the president in just the last three months. I am horrified by the general lack of understanding about the historical evolution of the American party system and therefore seem to spend disproportionate amounts of time going through it with my students, but that is not unique to this particular situation. The collective doublethink that is fronted by the figure of the president I find more troubling. It is emblematic that 2017 is formally the first year of the post-fact era that had its soft opening some time ago.

One thought on “American Doublethink

  1. Our current president holds as strong a claim to being a republican as he does to being a historian. Context means little to him. That said, it takes two to tango, and no war can be blamed entirely on one side. Nor can one person ever be responsible for preventing a war. I’m very uncomfortable with how close we are right now to having one person entirely responsible for starting a war though. Especially when that one has no sense of context.

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