You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Big Brother Is Wooing You

Orwellian echoes in Cleveland, where two plus two equals five.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tuesday was advertised as “Make America Work Again” night in Cleveland. But you heard virtually nothing from any speaker on the economy, except that Barack Obama ruined it, and that Hillary Clinton will make it worse. Not from 492nd-best women’s professional golfer in the world, Natalie Gulbus, who is actually more of a bikini model—though also, she assured us, a Christian and a conservative, who praised the Donald for teaching her “to stand up to gender injustices and to lean in to any professional challenge that comes my way.” Not from the boss of the UFC. (“USC?” my wife asked me? No, Ultimate Fighting Championship. Men who fight in cages.) Not from the parade of senators, nor the chief lobbyist of “the largest and oldest civil rights association in the country.” (That would be the NRA.) Not from the soap star who is also an avocado farmer. (And who, I am certain, never, ever hired an undocumented worker to pick them.) Not even someone named Andy Wist, who owns a Bronx waterproofing company and had the bad fortune to have a pretty good joke written for him, and to tell it so flatly he got no laughs. (“‘Who’s Andy Wist?’ they all ask. ‘He’s Batman.’ ‘No, that’s Adam West. Some of these reporters need to get a life.’”)

No, if any theme united the speeches it was that Hillary Clinton deserved to be in jail—that, as another speaker put it, she would be “the first president in history to take the oath of office after violating it.” That gem came from Michael Mukasey, attorney general in the completely crime-free administration of George W. Bush.

Even with this sure crowd-pleaser as a theme, however, the delegates were quiet most of the night. All the minor party officials, donors, and favor-seekers who make up the usual cast of party delegates know that their job at these things is to look excited for the camera. With so many newbies on the floor this year, however, combined with the Trump campaign’s incompetence, even this basic task is beyond them. They only really perked up a few times: at Donald Trump Jr.’s very well-turned performance (he gives a good speech: I’d pick him as the most likely figure to preserve Trumpism beyond Trump); at Paul Ryan’s classic stemwinder on the imperative of party unity, which you could have put in a textbook; and at Chris Christie’s speech, which concatenated better than anything so far Trumpism’s contempt for the due process of law.

Christie’s whole thing was Orwellian, with Clinton serving as 1984’s Emmanuel Goldstein, the unseen villainous plotter whose specter serves as the engine of mass hysteria in the regime’s Two Minutes’ Hate rituals. Only, alas, this one lasted 15 minutes, and was not fictional at all.

The speech was structured, unashamedly, as a totalitarian-style kangaroo court by the former federal prosecutor. “I welcome the opportunity to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for her performance and her character,” he said, and couldn’t continue for the chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Christie begged leave to continue, promised to present, seriatim, the “facts on Hillary Rodham Clinton,” then recited a series of made-up stories about her and invited the mob the decide her fate on each count with a simultaneous “GUILTY!” shriek.


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. … As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the Poeple, had flashed on  to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust…

Just like the woman sitting next to me in Quick Loans Arena.

But that wasn’t the most chillingly Orwellian passage in Christie’s speech. For when I rewatched it, listening for those 1984 resonances, I was surprised to find his opening words the scariest of all: This man, so abused, so trifled with, so exploited and soiled by Donald Trump, opened his mouth and said, “We are about to be led by not only a strong leader but by a caring, genuine, and decent person.” He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Nothing, though, was more thoroughly Orwellian than Christie’s turn to Russia. I’m sure you remember, from 1984, that four years before the action begins, “Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. ... Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.”

I defy you—and, more, defy any Trump supporter—to separate out that brand of reality-massaging from the following: Christie turned to Clinton’s role, as Secretary of State, in “resetting” America’s Russia policy, which “deleted in four years what it took 40 years to build.” (That, of course, was a Republican inside joke: “delete”—emails—get it?)

He continued, “Strengthen an adversary led by a dictator who dreams of reassembling the old Soviet empire? What a dangerous lack of judgment.”

Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. As Ryan Grim and Akbar Shaid Ahmen of the Huffington Post have written in the most important piece of analysis on Cleveland, “The Real Winner At the GOP Convention Is Vladimir Putin.” First, Trump forces struck out the platform draft’s call to give weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian expansionism—“contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign-policy leaders in Washington,” noted the Washington Post. Trump himself has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, grading his leadership as an “A.” Another of Tuesday’s speakers, General Michael Flynn, is a regular on RT, the state-supported, Putin-friendly English-language news channel, even appearing with Putin at a party for the channel in Moscow.

Noted HuffPo, “Since Trump first began to reveal himself as a fan of Putin, scores of media investigations have uncovered a shady web of connections between many of Trump’s top advisers and Putin’s friends.” Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was on the payroll of Ukraine’s former, Russian-backed, president for more than ten years.

No matter: Here came Prosecutor Christie, offering for the mob’s delectation the next count in the indictment of Hillary Clinton.

“Once again,” he cried, “as a flawed evaluator of dictators and failed strategist who has permitted Russia back as a major player in the Middle East, is Hillary Clinton guilty or not guilty?”

GUILTY!” came back the braying response.

Those are the facts. Big Brother showed up on the telescreen up above us, promising us peace, prosperity, “and just so many other things.” I did the calculation, and concluded that two plus two equals five.