Donald Trump may not be a big reader, but he’s been a boon for sales of dystopian literature. Amid our thirst for adult coloring books and stories about missing girls and reincarnated puppies, some grim old classics are speaking to us with new urgency. Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451 ,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World ” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale ” have all risen up the latest paperback bestseller list.
But by far the greatest beneficiary of our newly piqued national anxiety is George Orwell’s “1984.”
Soon after senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday that the administration was issuing “alternative facts,” Orwell’s classic novel spiked to No. 1 on Amazon. Like officials from the Ministry of Truth, Conway and White House press secretary Sean Spicer doubled down on Trump’s fanciful contention that his inauguration drew the “largest audience ever,” despite a Web-full of photographic evidence to the contrary. The Twittersphere responded with allusions to “1984,” and Penguin announced plans for a special 75,000-copy reprint , noting that since the inauguration, sales for the novel have increased by 9,500 percent.
Leaders have always tried to manipulate the truth, of course, and modern politicians of all persuasions want to “control the narrative,” but there’s something freshly audacious about the president’s assault on basic math, his effort to assemble from the substance of his vanity hundreds of thousands of fans on the Mall.
Almost 70 years after “1984” was first published, Orwell suddenly feels doubleplus relevant. Considering the New Trumpmatics, it’s impossible not to remember Winston Smith, the hero of “1984,” who predicted, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.”
Orwell biographer Gordon Bowker is not at all surprised by the renewed interest. “The continuing popularity of ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ is a reminder,” he said via email, “of the threat to democracy posed by those with power who proclaim ‘alternative facts’ and deny objective truths. Big Brother’s pronouncements are treated as absolute truth by his acolytes, even when they defy rational thought — so Black is White, 2+2=5, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”