By Don Frost
Ever since reading, many years ago and for the first time, George Orwell’s novel “1984,” I have puzzled over how and why the citizens of Oceania got saddled with Big Brother as their leader. Surely they did not elect a guy who promised to be an absolute dictator; a man who pledged, “When I am elected you will think, feel, and believe with all your heart and soul whatever I tell you.”
Orwell never explained how Big Brother and his enforcers, the Thought Police, came to be absolute rulers of Oceania. I guess we have to assume Orwell took poetic license: He just began his story after they were firmly entrenched and never mind how they got there.
But I think I know how an evil such as Big Brother and his Thought Police could take over a country. It’s playing out in America now. It’s called Mob Rule, and it functions very much the same way Big Brother, the Thought Police, and Oceania’s Ministry of Truth operated.
The Ministry of Truth’s job was to alter news and history to Big Brother’s liking. We have no such bureaucracy in America today, nor do we have the scientific means to literally wipe out all mentions of a history some folks just don’t like. But we do have mobs eager to pull down statues, flags, emblems, and even people, basically erasing from view – and therefore, ultimately, from memory – historic events and people of whom and of which they disapprove. And, like Oceania before Orwell’s story began, this is regarded as a good and noble thing.
This “Tear It Down” mantra is not restricted to destroying physical objects of which the mob disapproves. The mob also disapproves of certain people, and they, too, are subject to being torn down – fired, suspended, dismissed, or otherwise rejected by society for their “crimes.”
If a mindless mob can bend governments, mighty corporations, and people to its will, it’s just a small step for the guy with the loudest bullhorn to emerge as the mob’s, and ultimately the country’s, honored leader. If all he has to do is chant, “Tear it down! Tear it down!” and the mob obeys, it is time for all of us to be afraid.
I’m not suggesting Big Brother is at this moment waiting in the wings for the proper moment to assume command of the mob and the country. I’ll just repeat: Mob Rule in Oceania could very well have given birth to the evil of Big Brother, the Thought Police, and the Ministry of Truth. “It can’t happen here”? The image of an ostrich with its head in the sand springs to mind.
Ever since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, the mob has been calling the shots in many aspects of American life. Grant Napear, Sacramento, Calif., radio and TV sportscaster, tweeted, “All Lives Matter . . . Every Single One.” The mob didn’t like that, apparently in the belief that black lives matter more than the lives of any other race. His employer, terrified of the mob, fired him.
Joyce Kenner, the black principal of Whitney Young High School in Chicago, has offended the mob, with many calling for her firing. Her offense: She urged students not to take part in violence and looting.
The Associated Press has made a style change and many newspapers are following suit. Henceforth, “black” shall be capitalized in reference to a people; “white” shall remain lower case in reference to a people. This is what corporate America – and politicians – call “getting ahead of the problem.” That is, you figure out what would appease the mob and you do it before the mob demands it.
Bon Appetit, the culinary magazine, has announced it will check all of its past recipes “to add cultural context and address appropriation and tokenization.” The mob didn’t tell the editors to do that. Bon Appetit is just “getting ahead of the problem.”
Even St. Louis, Mo., may be “getting ahead of the problem.” It is flirting with changing its name. The town, after all, was named after French King Louis IX who is accused of being anti-Semitic and Islamophobic.
The wife of Aleksandar Katai, a professional soccer player, posted on social media some ugly observations about the Black Lives Matter crusade. The mob didn’t like that. Katai publicly disavowed his wife’s view. Too bad, too late. His team, also terrified of the mob, fired him.
Often the mob is downright ludicrous in its demands, its views, and its actions. Doesn’t matter. The mob is in ascendance and must be catered to even while its idiocy is painfully obvious.
The mob doesn’t like Aunt Jemima, calling the representation of a black woman on the iconic pancake mix and syrup a racist throwback to when black women were thought of only as cooks. The mob has issued the “Tear It Down” mantra, demanding Aunt Jemima be gone. But if Aunt Jemima is racist, what does that make Betty Crocker?
The mob tore down and defaced the base of a statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg in Madison, Wisc. What was his crime? Nothing, really. On the contrary. He was an abolitionist who was killed fighting on the Union side in the Civil War. Searching for a plausible explanation to justify this vandalism, one “protester” said it was because prisons in the state of Wisconsin have too many black inmates. He did not try to explain what Heg had to do with that.
You’d think a statue of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would be safe from the mob’s depredations. He was, after all, the man who finally defeated the Southern Confederacy, leading directly to the abolition of slavery throughout America. The mob toppled a statue of the Civil War hero and defaced its base in a San Francisco park. Grant’s “crime”? He was a slave owner. It’s true. Before the war he owned a slave named William Jones. His father-in-law, a slave owner, gave Jones to Grant as a gift. So Grant did “own” him, but only for as long as it took both men to march to the county courthouse and sign papers of manumission, ie., freedom. It deepened the rift in the already strained relationship with his in-laws, but Grant’s principles would not allow him to own a human being. The mob couldn’t care less: “Tear it down! Tear it down!”
UCLA business professor Gordon Klein got off easy. He wasn’t fired. He was merely suspended. An online petition had demanded he be fired because of his “woefully racist” refusal to offer special consideration on his final exam to black students who felt “traumatized by the recent unrest.” In his “racist” response to this demand Klein paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In it King spoke of a time when people would be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. Pretty racist stuff, according to the mob.
The official name of Rhode Island is “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” and it is so recorded on official documents and the state’s website. Stealing a march on the mob, Gov. Gina Raimondo has issued a proclamation changing the official name to simply “Rhode Island.” Apparently she realized that sooner or later the mob would object to “Plantations” and its association with slavery in the antebellum South, so she’d just “get ahead of the problem.”
James Bennet, editorial page editor of the sainted New York Times, resigned or was fired (depending on the source of the story) for running an op-ed piece by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. The mob didn’t like Cotton’s opinion that “rioters have plunged many American cities into anarchy” and that an “overwhelming show of force” is needed to “restore order to our streets.”
The City Council of Duluth, Minn., has voted to ban the word “chief” from city job titles. The council feared the mob might regard the word as offensive to Indians. So Duluth no longer has a “chief financial officer” or “chief administrator.” Instead it has a “city administrator” and a “finance director.” They’re still puzzling over what to do about “fire chief” and “police chief.”
Joe Biden certainly isn’t shy about “getting ahead of the problem.” When it became obvious he was going to get the Democratic nomination for president he announced he was going to name a woman as his running mate. Then Floyd was killed. Now he’s looking for a black woman as his running mate. All he has to do now is name a black LGBTQ woman and he’ll have scored a trifecta in pandering for votes.
Good grief, what’s the country to do when the mob takes off after the founding fathers who were unabashed slave owners, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? The sheer number of monuments, schools, streets, towns and cities named after these men is mind-boggling. It will keep the mob busy for decades wiping out representations of them.
My thanks to John Kass, the Chicago Tribune’s token conservative columnist, for digging these lines out of “1984.” It is a testament to the work of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, but it applies equally to the “Tear It Down!” mob:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
Insert “the mob” in place of “the Party” and you’ll have America today. In Oceania if you disputed Big Brother you got your head strapped in a cage with a ravenous rat. In America today if you dispute the mob, you get labeled a racist.