Some 200 theaters around the world are screening 1984 to warn about the dark descending night of fascism under Donald Trump. The timing of this could not be more ironic, given that all the news of late makes it abundantly clear that the former administration, not the current one, deserves to be known as Big Brother.
In particular, after a steady trickle of news about surveillance and unmasking of Trump campaign and transition personnel by the US intelligence community, yesterday the story broke that ex-National Security Advisor and noted f-bomber* Susan Rice–yes, that paragon of honesty, Madam Benghazi Talking Points–had requested the unmasking of numerous Trump personnel picked up in reports of surveillance on foreigners (incidentally, of course! Trust them on this!).
Last month, Ms. Rice played dumb (not a stretch!) by claiming that she had no idea what Devin Nunes was on about. Yesterday, Susie F was unavailable for comment, although one of the Obama creatures working for CNN (but I repeat myself) tweeted: “Just in: ‘The idea that Ambassador Rice improperly sought the identities of Americans is false.’ – person close to Rice tells me.”
Note the presence of the weasel modifier “improperly.” Not a categorical denial of unmasking. I therefore consider this an admission that unmasking did occur.
Within minutes of Rice’s unmasking, the left and the egregious never Trumpers (led by Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, and Evan McMuffin), had their narrative response ready to go: It’s a good thing that Rice was keeping tabs on the evil Trump’s canoodling with the Russkies! Just doing her job and saving the Republic!
Which overlooks one crucial detail: Nunes claims that the unmasked communications he saw had nothing to do with Russia. And let’s get real here. It is almost certain that Nunes saw a sample of what the White House has learned. NSC staffer Evan Cohen-Watnick (who played a role in discovering the information, though his exact part is hazy, like most details in this story) was apparently told to stop collecting material by the White House counsel’s office. Presumably they have continued the effort given its political and legal sensitivities. We know that US intelligence systematically collects intelligence on foreigners, meaning that any contacts by the Trump campaign and the Trump administration with anyone in countries ranging from Albania to Zanzibar would have been collected (incidentally! pinkie swear!) and available for unmasking. If Rice was asking for material on contacts with one non-Russian country, it is likely she was asking for it all.
So just who is Big Brother now?
The defense of Rice overlooks another crucial detail. Despite the huffing and puffing of the likes of Andy Kaufman lookalike Adam Schiff and every talking shill on CNN/MSNBC/ABC/NBC/CBS and writing shill on the NYT/WaPoo, etc., all of the allegations of collusion have produced bupkis in terms of actual, you know, evidence. We are treated to stories about peripheral figures like Carter Page and Paul Manafort dating from about the time of the Trojan War (in political time), but nothing of substance. Even the Flynn “bombshell” is something of a dud: what he actually said to the Russian ambassador has not been revealed, strongly suggesting that nothing explosive transpired–if it had, you can be sure we would have heard of it by now. My colleague and eminent scholar of Russia Paul Gregory, no shill for Putin, believe me, writes persuasively of the emptiness of the allegations, and their baleful impact on our politics. It even appears that Obama is trying to end this line of attack. There is little doubt that the linked article originated from the Obama camp, and its timing is particularly interesting now that it looks like the issue is boomeranging on him and his closest aides.
I would also point out some other 1984 echoes in the Obama tenure. Consider this nauseating piece on how different official photography of the White House is under Trump as compared to Obama:
Many of the most iconic photos of Barack Obama’s presidency came from Pete Souza, the official White House photographer. Granted extensive access to Obama, he shot the Osama Bin Laden war room photo, moments the president shared with Michelle Obama, the many famous images of the president interacting with kids, and countless more. These carefully composed photos so defined the public image of Obama that it nearly made Souza a household name.
In its visual representation, as in so many other respects, the Trump administration has made a break with the past. Most of what we see of Trump comes from either the traveling pool of press photographers or the smartphones of his staff. On the one hand there are Getty Images or Reuters shots of Trump standing at podiums (or pretending to drive a truck). And on the other, we get unusually informal images of him posing with world leaders or appearing to be caught off guard. In the meantime, the White House’s Flickr account was purged, and the “Photos” section was removed from the official website.
In other words, Obama deliberately created a cult of personality, using “carefully composed” “iconic” (there’s a tell!) photos to “define the public image of Obama.” Yes, Trump is a narcissist, but he could learn something about narcissism from Obama, who from long before he became president obsessed about creating a public image–a personality cult, in all but name.
And the U-turn to the late-Obama administration and current Democratic hysteria over Russia, the Monopoly of Evil (none of this wimpy multi-country axis stuff) from the previous Reset/”tell Vladimir that after my election I have more flexibility”/”the 1980s called and want their foreign policy back” policies bears more than a little similarity to 1984’s Oceania Has Always Been at War With Eastasia. Alas, whereas in 1984 there was only Hate Week, we are now well into Hate Year.
So those tramping to a revival of 1984 to protest Trump are way, way late to the game. They should have expressed their outrage years ago. But that’s when they were all part of Big Brother’s personality cult, wasn’t it?
*I’ve got nothing against f-bombers! There was a time when I could be the B-52 of f-bombers 😉