Robert Azzi: ‘What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening’

  • President Donald Trump departs from a campaign rally in in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 8/5/2018 12:14:54 AM

It’s George Orwell’s time again.

Recently, President Donald Trump evoked, certainly not intentionally, Orwell during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Kansas City.

Trump told the assembled guests – among them veterans who served in wars, campaigns or expeditions on foreign soil or in hostile waters in order to defend the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and all the values and freedoms embodied therein – that, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Thus, in but a moment, Trump channeled Orwell’s 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Thus, in but a moment, America’s commander in chief gave his disciples their most essential command: “Reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.”

He revealed himself a demagogic commander evoking a dispatch of universal deceit; demanding disciples – colloquially known as “The Base” – follow him into a dark, conspiratorial world of deceit, ignorance, treason and national betrayal.

Alas, many do!

Alas, I’m not surprised.

For some months, as I’ve wondered who are these people so willing to betray the aspirational values upon which America was built in order to follow a narcissistic, deceitful, know-nothing bully, I’ve tried to learn more about who they are.

As they’re clearly not my friends – I know no one who believes that I, or other editors, journalists and columnists or other members of Edmund Burke’s Fourth Estate, are “Enemies of the People” – I’ve turned to Facebook to find the lair where they dwell.

Over time, I’ve narrowed down to a handful (out of hundreds I’ve looked at) Trump supporters in New Hampshire who aren’t shy about posting – sometimes as often as 20 or 30 times daily – their unquestioning support for Trump and their disdain for those who oppose him.

I check in on them frequently and on their publicly viewable pages I read “Whistleblower Who Exposed Hillary Clinton’s Child Trafficking Ties Feared Dead.” I read that former CIA Director John Brennan’s a secret Muslim, that President Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya and that the Confederate flag is sacred.

“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t,” Tweedledee said in Through the Looking Glass. “That’s logic.”

In response to the Trump administration’s separation and kidnapping of children from their parents I read – seemingly without irony, certainly without empathy – from a poster who frequently shares his celebration of family and Christian values: “I can’t imagine why the parents have not come forward with proof that the government has their kids. I don’t believe you can blame the government on this one. Where are the parents? This is beyond reason. Something is wrong with the parents.”

I read anti-Semitic tropes against George Soros. I read that “Huma Abedin, Eric Schneiderman, Stormy Daniels and Anthony Weiner were all present at a recruitment mixer in support of a sex slave cult with a guru known for pedophilia.”

I read marginally articulate postings from ex-state legislators, from people holding town offices, school teachers, financial advisers and bitter retirees who believe that there’s a deep-state conspiracy designed to deny citizens their constitutional rights.

I read these things publicly posted by our neighbors and I learn that their ignorance, parochialism and unfettered resentments – many racially based – should frighten us all.

It should frighten us all because their ignorance – nurtured by their false belief, as Isaac Asimov wrote, “that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,” and their unfettered fealty to absurd alternative facts – represents an existential threat to America.

“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well,” Orwell wrote, “and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”

That neither Trump nor his “Base” thinks well augers poorly for our future as a democracy.

This week I watched, transfixed, Trump’s white-nationalist revival meetings in Florida and Pennsylvania. As I listened to his barely coherent, tired and oft-repeated rants and diatribes I had an epiphany.

I realized I was witnessing not just a crowd devoted to a demagogue but a failing and diminished demagogue who, fearful his base might abandon him, was telling them what they wanted to hear before they realized how truly diminished he was.

“I love the poorly educated,” Trump said in February 2016. Today, the “poorly educated” don’t just love him back, they’ve taken over the asylum to which they’ve voluntarily committed themselves.

Those all-too-many inmates – those who post on pages headlined “Deplorable and proud of it,” who support QAnon, believe in PizzaGate conspiracies, plead for a pardon for Jerry Delemus and who believe Hilary sold uranium to Russia – are running the asylum.

Those inmates who hate LGBTQ peoples, Muslims, Mexicans and anyone not like them – who hate anyone not privileged by their whiteness, ethnicity and Christian faith – have rendered indistinguishable any distinction between Asylum and Administration.

Today, as I write, 572 kidnapped children remain in government-contracted shelters without their parents, over a week after the court-ordered deadline to reunify separated families.

Today, that is what is true.

Today, you reject the evidence of your eyes and ears at your own peril.

That’s logic.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at His columns are archived at On Tuesday night at 7, he will be at the Epsom Public Library presenting his “Ask a Muslim Anything” program, which is free and open to the public.)

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