Chapter 1: Being Watched
It was a bright cold day in April, and all the smart watches were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an attempt to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quick enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering with him. Not that it mattered much, for instantly a jet of water streamed discreetly out and removed the grime. Things were like that now in Trumpland - glossy, polished and artificially neat. But also more than a little disquieting - except even thinking so was a crime, so W. quickly put it out of his mind.
In the lobby was a giant poster with an enormous face with a familiar and distinctive orange hue. It was one of those posters which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. DONALD TRUMP IS WATCHNG YOU, the caption beneath it ran. W. didn't have to worry about forgetting the face for an instant because when the elevator arrived and he entered it, there was a telescreen embedded in two sides with President Donald Trump on it talking about how since America had become great again, he was going to make it even greater. Since literally everywhere W. went, there was a telescreen doing this, not to mention that his smart watch bleated every now and then with tweets from the President himself, W. was able to block much of it out. At first when the President had taken office back in 2017, this whole arrangement had been deeply unsettling, but now after seven years, he had gotten used to it to the point where it was just wallpaper. Mostly.
Ordinarily, W. would have tried to get some exercise by taking the stairs, but he had recently had a varicose ulcer removed and was still recuperating. Thanks to TrumpCare, however, it had cost him very little, and he was well on his way to his usual health. In the bad old days, he would have had to wait at several months just to get the diagnosis that would allow him to have an operation to remove it, and he was grateful for this, but still, it was a little bizarre to know that his doctor could, at any time, watch him through the telescreen to see how he was really doing. The bad old days had been admittedly bad, but at least back then, you didn't have to worry about your doctor spying on you to make sure you followed instructions. But that, too, was a thoughtcrime, so he tried his best to forget it.
As W. entered his apartment, he couldn't help but notice the giant billboard in the square across the street which also bore the visage of the President and the message: DONALD TRUMP IS WATCHING YOU. Twitching the curtains shut, he looked cautiously at the telescreen, then ducked into a small alcove from which he was - hopefully - invisible from the all-seeing gaze of the Trump Administration. With yet another furtive look, W. took out a blank journal and pen and opened it up. In small clumsy letters he wrote: April 4, 2024, then sat back feeling hopeless. What was the point, after all, of keeping a journal? For one thing, he could get in a lot of very unpleasant trouble, since ordinary citizens of Trumpland were only allowed to communicate via text and tweets. For another, who exactly was going to be reading the journal? No one that was who, since reading it would surely bring punishment on his descendants. Still, despite that, he suddenly felt a powerful urge to start writing, and so gave in.
Boy, do I feel like an idiot writing this because who communicates like this anymore? No one, that's who. After all, brevity of expression is prized above all nowadays, and what can be more precise then a tweet? Or, if you need to go on about something, texting is permissible. Nowadays, people mostly just communicate via photos and videos, and everyone says how much more efficient this way is. So what the hell am I doing? It isn't like my days laboring at the Ministry of Truth yield new and surprising insights that are worth writing down. Going back over years of news stories about the President and cutting out all the negative parts is about the dullest thing you could think of to do for a living. Even getting to spice it up with a little photo or video editing now and then when someone goes on vacation doesn't make it any less boring.
W. stopped and groaned. He had pictured himself, when he finally got a chance, pouring forth endless observations that were tinged with wit and perception, but instead, he was just blathering on. Plus it was a forbidden way to blather on. But then suddenly, he knew. A memory came to him, and he realized that it was this other incident that had made him come home and begin the diary. It had happened that morning at the Ministry, if anything so nebulous could be said to happen.
To be continued
Chapter 2: Two Minute Hate
That morning, Winston had, as usual, gotten up and gone to his day job at the Ministry of Truth which contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level. Though it didn't matter how many rooms there were, it was still a deeply depressing place to work, although unlike the Ministry of Love, at least it had windows. The Ministry of Love was a truly frightening place, not so much in appearance but in the rumors swirling around it. That was not a subject on one wished to dwell, unless one wished to court nightmares.
From where W. stood, it was possible to read the three slogans painted in gold of the Party.
FACT IS FICTION
IGNORANCE IS BLISS
FOLLY IS WISDOM
As usual, too, W. briefly tried to puzzle out just what they meant. But it made his brain hurt, so he jettisoned that and proceeded to his cubicle in the Records Department where a mountain of periodicals awaited him, ready for their exorcism of any anti-Donald Trump news. Because the President had been in the public eye since the 1980's or so, and because there were still renegade journalists out there who dared report what they considered (non-fictional) fact, W. still had plenty to do. As hard as he and his fellow colleagues tried, there was no way of stopping this permanently. It was even more of a challenge online because there was no way of fully cracking down on the anti-Trump news there either. Not that the President hadn't tried, but this was an issue whose resolution was still "in progress."
When It was nearly eleven hundred in the Records Department, they began dragging the chairs out of all the cubicles and grouping them in the center of the hall opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minute Hate. W. was just taking his place in one of the middle rows, when two people came in who he knew by sight but had never spoken to, came unexpectedly into the room. One of them was a girl whom he often passed in the corridors and who worked in the Fiction Department. That department was, if anything, perhaps even duller than his own and involved changing facts about the Trump Administration in the press into more flattering facts. He had disliked her from the moment he saw her, although he could not articulate why. However, the idea had crossed his mind that she could possibly be an agent of the Thought Police, and that was not a good thing.
The other person was a man named O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party and holder of a post so remote that W. had only a slim idea of its name. W. felt deeply drawn to him, perhaps because he sensed that beneath his professional veneer, O'Brien was not entirely on board with the whole Fact Is Fiction thing either, even though he was rumored to have actually met President Trump personally at his residence, The Trump House. Still, it was dangerous to speculate, and no doubt, he was wrong.
Such thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a hideous grinding screech coming from the telescreen, signaling the start of the Two Minute Hate. On the screen appeared a life-sized figure of a woman wearing a scarlet pantsuit. It was Hillary Clinton, the Enemy of the People, who had lost the presidency in 2016 and who had disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter. Just what she had done to make so many people angry, W. had never quite figured out, but he seemed to be in the minority. It was rumored to have something to do with email, which was a form of communication that was decidedly passé these days. Still, he knew without a doubt that he loathed her.
As usual at the familiar sight, everyone began screaming "Lock her up! Lock her up!" scowling and shaking their fists. Now technically, you could no longer lock anyone up because nothing was a crime anymore, but it sure was infectious when everyone started chanting this. No matter how ridiculous you thought the whole thing was later, you got sucked into the mass hostility and pretty soon, you became convinced that nothing was more important than locking up a figure who no one had seen in years and was rumored to not even exist. Before you knew it, you were yelling, too and surfing the crest of a wave of hate - which of course, was the whole point.
However, for some reason, there came a switch, and W. no longer wanted to lock up Hillary Clinton. No, now he was swamped with fantasies of locking up the pretty dark haired girl sitting behind him, shrieking abuse at the screen. He was filled with Images of her securely behind bars, subsisting on well, whatever they fed you in jail. But wait, a minute - now that he took a moment, W. realized he didn't want to lock the pretty dark haired girl up after all. He wanted to sleep with her. Yes, that was more like it.
Was wanting sex a thoughtcrime or was it simply a natural reaction to not getting laid in years? If it was triggered by hate, rather than love, was it acceptable? Or if love and hate were interchangeable as was now claimed, was this even an issue? And who decided that it was going to be two minutes of hate anyway? How W. wished there was someone who could explain all this to him properly, someone who wouldn't go running to the authorities and report him. Lately, he had begun to toy with the idea that that person was O'Brien, although he could not say why.
The Two Minute Hate had reached its end, and people were reluctantly starting to trickle back to their cubicles. W. rubbed his hand across his forehead. He was getting a migraine, but luckily, TrumpCare would take care of it right away. Still, although everyone kept telling W. he should be happy with the way things were now, he could not quite shake the sensation that something was somehow amiss.
But perhaps it was only him.
To be continued
Chapter 3: Trick or Tweet
Did the Two Minute Hate actually help anybody, Winston wondered, as he stared at his journal, or was it just a diversion? But that was a thoughtcrime - daring to question the truth of the Trump regime, and so he tried to forget it. He blinked and refocused on the page. Suddenly, as if of its own accord, his hand began to move. And it was no longer the same cramped awkward handwriting as before. His pen slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals:
DOWN WITH DONALD TRUMP
DOWN WITH DONALD TRUMP
DOWN WITH DONALD TRUMP
DOWN WITH DONALD TRUMP
He could not help feeling a twinge of panic which was quickly and permanently replaced by resignation to his ultimate fate. Whether or not he tore out that page, whether or not he continued writing in the journal, the Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed the essential crime - Thoughtcrime. Even worse, he had a feeling that he had committed Thoughtcrimes of which he was completely unaware, but not to those watching. Sooner or later they would come for him - it was rumored that they waited until you were asleep, all the better to scare the wits out of you. The President might allow tweet-crimes and text-crimes (criticisms of his administration) to go unpunished but never Thoughtcrimes.
A bleeping noise startled W. Hastily he placed his arm over the journal, but then relaxed because it was coming from his smart watch, and was just the President who was currently engaged in a Twitter war with Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia.
therealdonaldtrump: U said you were going to move the nukes Friday! 2 days and counting, WTF?
the1andonlyVputin: I never said that! You're delusional.
therealdonaldtrump: I know you are - but what am I?
the1andonlyVputin: Someone whose comebacks sound like a third grader?
At first, it had been unnerving to receive mandatory tweets from the President on a regular basis and be privy to all his feuds - after all, what if he inadvertently started an international incident, but by now, everyone was used to him, and knew that the odds were high that the President and whoever he was feuding with would kiss and make up within 48 hours. So there was no need to worry.
therealdonaldtrump: you're going to regret this, you're making a very, very big mistake
the1andonlyVputin: Ha! U Wish!
W. rolled his eyes and tugged his sweater over the watch - something you could get away with, but it didn't really matter because everywhere you went, there the President was. Not that it had always been that way, although the President and his Cabinet insisted otherwise. Back when he was growing up, W. remembered - though that time period was hazy - Trumplandia had not been synonymous with America. Instead the country had been formerly known as the United States of America. But since California had seceded in 2018, and Massachusetts had followed suit in 2019 (perhaps a bit annoyed that they hadn't had the idea first), the President had passed a mandate that made it illegal, so the forty-eight remaining states were stuck. But they were better off without California and Massachusetts, W. knew, because they were all just a bunch of whiny losers.
By now, the President and Mr. Putin had gotten bored and were no longer engaging in tweet-warfare. It was getting late, so W. closed his journal, then took a pinch of whitish dust and placed it on the cover before concealing the journal in a drawer. A hair would have been too obvious, but this way, W. would know if anyone tried to tamper with it.
Although the telescreen would be issuing forth constant updates on the President through the night, W. had learned to tune it out. Of course, media pundits would be praising the President for his quick wit on Twitter, so it wasn't like W. was going to miss anything by turning in early. Besides, bright and early next morning, he would have to get up in time for the Getting Physical mandatory exercises before he went to work. Now that it was 2024, and America was truly great, one had to stay in shape whether one liked it or not.
To be continued
Chapter 4: Down the Memory Hole
With the deep unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day's work started, Winston booted up his laptop and pulled up the next set of messages he was to work on. The first two read:
times 17.3.20 bb malquoted temperament rectify
times 14.2.21 bb malquoted complexion rectify
Sure, it looked like a lot of gobbledygook to the uninitiated, but really code breaking in the Ministry of Truth was a cinch once you got the hang of it. The messages referred to articles and columns W. was to alter that had been somehow slipped into what passed for online news these days. The first two were simple - W. was to use the search/replace function to go over these stories and change certain words to put a more positive spin on the press's descriptions of the President's complexion - in this case, transform "orange," into "sun-kissed," or possibly "bronzed," and then temperament. The second involved altering "thin-skinned," or "vindictive" to "acutely perceptive," or perhaps "admirably just." By this time, thanks to the diligence of the Ministry, such corrections took less and less time (as they were decreasing in the first place), but it was still (sadly) a necessity.
To accomplish this task of portraying the President in the most flattering light possible, W just had to employ a slightly updated version of the Search/Replace function, which had been used in the bad old days, but had been specially revamped to keep up with all the derogatory terms for President Donald Trump that renegade journalists kept trying to sneak into their articles. Instead of having to keep re-running it with every new word search, it had been pre-programmed to cover all the usual bases, though W. made it a point to skim the rest to make sure no one had come up with any new slurs. (Similar searches were performed on other parts of speech like verbs - the word "whine," for example was considered unacceptable, and so it was necessary to change it to "ponder" or "insist.")
Then W. made sure to delete the original messages, which would undergo more deletions on the way to making sure they had never existed in the first place. Day by day, and almost minute by minute, the past was brought up to date. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed as often as necessary. Other corrections that W. made involved facts and figures - such as the unemployment rate (which inevitably decreased),the national deficit (which also decreased), and the President's approval rating (that kept increasing to the point where W. privately considered it a tad ridiculous). Were any of this actually true, W. sometimes wondered, though that of course, was a thoughtcrime. It seemed so, at least wherever he went, people were in agreement that America was now great again, that it was just the greatest it had ever been in history, and that from Former President Obama on back, it had been decidedly un-great. But had it always been that way? W. wasn't sure.
Such work was routine, but what kept it from becoming tedious were the messages that required more complex adjustments, such as the ones that required W. to invent persons, places or acts that had technically not occurred in reality. But he sensed he was far from the only one who was responsible for such invention, and what likely occurred was that the higher-ups reviewed them and chose the version that cast President Trump in the most appealing light. And he was far from alone in the endless adjusting of things - his colleagues were hard at work editing videos, Photoshopping pictures, supervising social media, and altering tweets. It was a lot of work, but it was all most necessary.
At lunch, W. wound up sitting across from a colleague who was working on the Newspeak Dictionary and out of politeness inquired how it was going. He himself was not interested but felt it necessary to make conversation anyway.
"Fascinating," his colleague said, brightening up. "It's amazing how easy it is to, shall we say, massage the English language. For example, take the word "truth." In the old days, the opposite of "truth" was "lie" or "falsehood." Now to accommodate the President's and his staff's unique communication style, both "lie" and "falsehood" are being phased out. Instead we now have the term "pre-truth," which means a statement that is not completely true but could conceivably be if the speaker possessed certain information he or she does not have. Also, there's "meta-truth," which means a statement that isn't pre-truth, but still does not qualify as actual "truth."
"So what qualifies as actual truth?" W. asked, though he knew he was taking a risk. Someone could be listening and report him, and then one day he might disappear. But what the hell? Life in Trumplandia wasn't somehow as great as he sensed it was supposed to be.
"Ah, good question," his colleague replied. "Actual truth is considered a sloppy and inaccurate concept. We've decided to leave it out of the latest edition of our dictionary. The terms "pre-truth," and "Meta-truth," are satisfactory. Why complicate things needlessly? Either a statement lacks adequate back-up information or it does not. But to condemn someone's words as completely untrue is harsh. They might sincerely believe every syllable of what they're saying, and who are we to deny them that belief?"
It seems like censorship to me, W. thought, as he chewed on his sandwich. Wasn't that the problem with political correctness in the old days? You couldn't have any kind of serious discussion on political issues because you were perpetually afraid you were going to offend someone? But he kept this to himself.
"I suppose, if you wish to refer to something as a "lie" or "falsehood," as in a statement that's completely wrong and no one in their right mind would argue with, one might employ the term "misperception," his colleague said after a moment. "Although "misperception" is a cumbersome term, and we really should streamline it. As we're trying to cut back on words with more than three syllables. Communication is about speed these days. Accuracy, too, is good, but reaching one's audience in the shortest period or time is better. Which is why the real future is in tweets."
W. looked at his colleague and had a sudden insight. He was too clever. Sure, he was devoted to the Party, but even from brief conversations, W. saw undeniable evidence that his colleague possessed actual working brain cells which was never a good thing nowadays. To distract himself from such depressing thoughts, W. bade goodbye, dumped his trash, pulled on his America is the Greatest! hat and went outside for a quick walk.
To be continued.
Chapter 5: Acts of Faith
Apologies to Bobby McFerrin. And George Orwell, while I'm at it.
It was nearing five p.m. on his I-watch, which meant the work day was winding down, and Winston would be free to leave. As it happened to be a Thursday, it was a cause for good cheer as the week was almost over, but W. couldn't recall whether or not it was a Protest Thursday, which might pose a problem. He had a hankering to go out and take a walk around the city but wasn't keen on running into a hostile crowd of liberals. Spending time on one's own was not considered a good idea, but now and then, you could get away with it. But as W. didn't have a license to protest, he ran the risk of being arrested and perhaps paying a visit to the Ministry of Love if he somehow managed to get caught up in the mob. So when W. caught sight of a colleague he knew who worked in another department, he slowed down and offhandedly as he could manage asked the question.
"I believe so," his friend, whose name was Ampleforth, replied. "Since it's the first Thursday of the month. That's why I'm ducking out early; I don't want to wind up in the middle of any trouble. You, too?"
From force of habit, W. glanced at the telescreen in the coatroom, although it was believed to only be there for show since no one had ever heard any scoldings issue forth from it. He kept his voice low anyway, as he responded in the affirmative.
"At least these protests are limited to every other week," Ampleforth added, "but they can be such a hassle. These liberals get so angry, and you have to wonder why. In a country where every little thing is great, what's the point of all this rage? They have everything they could possibly want right here, why don't they realize how good they have it?"
"I don't know," W. said. "It's a mystery to me." He turned to go, but his friend continued talking.
"Did you know that the Party is considering naming a day of the week after our President?" he asked. "Tuesday is such a sad name for a day, so I was thinking, why not change it officially to Trumpday? And they might take my advice. My boss said he would float it when he got the chance."
For the life of him, W. couldn't tell whether Ampleforth was joking or not. If it was not for his many years of schooling his features into a careful mask of polite curiosity to evade the Thought Police, he would have burst out laughing. Surely the days of the week were inviolate, right? However, common-sense soon asserted itself, and he decided that the query was not posed in jest. "Well, that sounds like a great idea," he said, which was his fallback reply to anything he wasn't quite sure might tilt into the realm of humor. "See you tomorrow then."
As he continued out of the building, W. couldn't help but wonder why stop there? Why not name a month after President Trump? Or even a planet - there were rumors of a brand new one having been sighted recently. By now, he could only dimly recall a few memories of his family as a boy, but he seemed to remember that his mother had once explained that the planets were named after figures in Greek mythology. But exactly how long ago had the ancient Greeks existed? He didn't know. Perhaps it was a good idea to update Tuesday to Trumpday. In the end, did it really matter? At present, W. was rather alone in the world. Oh, W. had once had parents and a sister, but they were long gone. He'd even, at one point, had a wife, but they had since separated. They'd pretended it was due to a disagreement over whether or not to have children, but in reality, they were simply incompatible and the thought of spending the rest of their lives together was too painful to contemplate. She adored the President, while he was, let's say, less enchanted. Sooner or later, she would have reported him, so it was for the best, they had divorced.
As W. turned the corner, he became aware of music issuing from a hidden loudspeaker, which wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Usually, he managed to tune it out, but for some reason, it penetrated his self-absorption.
"Here's a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy..."
The Party claimed to have invented pop music, W. knew, but it was difficult to imagine anyone in their right mind taking credit for such a saccharine ditty. And surely, pop music had to have been invented long before that, given that he seemed to remember it being a part of his youth.
W. hurried down the sidewalk, anxious to escape the music, but it seemed to take on a life of its own and follow him, as he turned onto a side street.
"In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
Don't worry, be happy
Don't worry, be happy now..."
As if on cue, a group of disheveled people burst into sight, carrying signs, waving fists and shouting - always shouting, at least on officially sanctioned Protest Thursdays. One man gave W. a second look, as he was the only one heading in the opposite direction but didn't bother him. Briefly, W. wondered what the liberals were protesting this time. They never seemed to tire of it - perhaps they were, as Ampleforth had suggested, wired differently. But perhaps one day, they might even be successful - they certainly had far more passion than anyone W. knew.
By now W. was well into the part of the city where the liberals were known to live and congregate, so he reflexively removed his Make America Even Greater hat and buttoned his coat so as to conceal the American flag pin on his breast. It wasn't likely anyone would hassle him, but he wanted to make sure. He felt his spirits lift as he realized he could no longer hear the music, the protesters had long since left him behind, and there was an intriguing aroma in the air. After a minute, W. realized it must be coffee - here, there were cafes that sold something else besides Trump Coffee. At first he thought he might go in and purchase a cup, but he had only so much time before he needed to turn back to go home.
Without realizing it, W. had retraced the route he had taken the last time he had ventured into this part of the city and was now approaching the secondhand shop where he had purchased his journal. Sure enough, there was the place, but this time there was a sign in the window advertising a room for rent.
Entering the store, W. noticed what he had earlier: that there did not appear to be a telescreen anywhere in the place. As the owner was busy with another customer, W. edged toward the back of the shop where he had last seen books. These were not the books churned out in the Ministry of Truth, but rather the non-digital kind, which were a chore to read as you were forced to read them straight through without any detours. Still, they intrigued him, and he bent to pick one up. However, his attention was caught by another, peculiar-looking object. It was an orb with a felt bottom and some kind of pinkish stone enclosed. Try as he might, its use escaped him.
"That's a paperweight," a voice said behind him, and W. turned to see the shopkeeper standing behind him. "With rose quartz inside, I believe. Useless now, but I suppose they came in handy back in the day people actually used paper. Are you interested?"
"Why not," W. replied, fishing for his wallet. Did the man recognize him from his visit before? Perhaps he should simply pay and leave, but something stopped him.
"Er, I noticed you have a sign for a room..."
"Oh yes," the man continued. He gave W. a look which seemed to pierce his coat and zero in on the American flag pin. But then the moment passed, and he held out his hand. "I'm Mr. Charrington," he said. "Would you be interested in renting?"
"Perhaps," W. said in a vague manner, as if he was not actually considering it. "Is your telescreen on the blink?" he added. It was a risky question, but after all, there was no need for him to return to this part of the city.
"Never got one of those things in the first place. Can't stand them. I-watches are bad enough, who wants to listen to the President jawboning all day?" Mr. Charrington said. "There's no telescreen anywhere on the premises - I hope that's not a problem."
Was this a test? Oh well, what the heck. "No, no problem." W. waited for some kind of thunderclap, but nothing happened. He noticed that the shop owner looked at least twenty years older than W. himself. Suddenly, he was tempted to continue, to ask Mr. Charrington about the bad old days before the Trumpian era had begun, but he restrained himself. It was getting late.
Suddenly, a gush of music burst forth - though W. couldn't place the source. It was wordless but soaring, triumphant. It triggered something inside him - but again, he could not identify just what.
"Goodbye," Mr. Charrington said as he handed W. the packaged paperweight.
"Goodbye," W. replied. "Oh, just out of curiosity, what is this?"
"Ode to Joy by Beethoven. A famous German composer."
Was that before or after the ancient Greeks? Did it matter? No, W. decided, it didn't.
"He was deaf, you know," Mr. Charrington added. "It happened when he was an adult. Didn't slow him down any."
Deaf? Wasn't that one of those unfortunate health conditions that no longer existed due to the superiority of Trumpcare? Well, it didn't matter what afflicted the composer. It certainly beat "Don't Worry Be Happy."
To be continued.