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An American dystopia

‘Animal Farm’ foreshadows Trump regime

News Analysis


“I couldn’t make this up,” is what some people say about the incompetence, corruption and cynicism of Donald J. Trump and his administration in Washington. But George Orwell was able to, in his 1945 novella, “Animal Farm.” This is a story about a rebellion by animals at a farm in England, based on the Stalinist regime in Russia. Stalin was responsible for more than 14 million deaths, about the same number as Hitler.

The book’s theme applies to authoritarian regimes everywhere, and many characters easily match up with people in Washington today — especially Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and other top officers who use “alternate facts” that distort reality in order to present the president in a favorable light. For example, 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths from COVID-19 are expected as a result of delaying the reopening of the economy by Trump. This is a horrible outcome rather than the victory that the president claims simply because experts say more than 2 million would die if nothing were done. Many of the deaths might have been avoided if Trump had acted sooner and had not downplayed the threat. Yet Trump denies responsilility for anything. Barr’s distortion of the findings by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Trump’s 2016 campaign, allowing the president to say he was exonerated, also speaks to the vices of autocratic regimes.

The pigs are the smartest characters in “Animal Farm.” A progressive pig named Snowball, who initiated the rebellion, is driven out by Napolean, also a pig, who schemed from the outset to take over the farm. He stole food and cheated the other animals and regularly lied to them— eventually becoming just like the humans that they had rebelled against. Napoleon executes other animals for contrived reasons, and the rebellion against farmer Jones, the original owner, ends badly for most of the animals, who work harder and in poorer conditions than when Jones ran the farm. Napoleon and three other pigs who have moved into the farmhouse by the end of he story — in violation of Animal Farm’s constitution — learn to stand on two legs, just like their human neighbors. They also dress like humans and to the barnyard animals peering in through farmhouse windows, the pigs are indistinguishable from humans, even to the point of cheating at a game of cards.

As with Trump, Napoleon blames all problems encountered by the animals on his predecessor. He even denies Snowball’s heroics in a battle with humans, just as Trump dishonored the war service of the late Sen. John McCain. In his self-centered cynicism, Napoleon is a dead ringer for Trump. Neither cares about his constituents; all decisions are based on self-interest. Napoleon opened contact with humans because he wanted to sell them the hens’ eggs, despite the hens’ protests and that trade with humans was forbidden by the constitution. Trump continued the national economic shutdown because he was told the pandemic-related free-fall would not affect his chances in the November election, but additional deaths that result from putting an end to social distancing probably would. “The argument (was) that Trump could be in even more political danger if he tried to reopen the economy too soon,” The Washington Post reported. “What happens if people, at Trump’s urging, go back to work and get sick and overwhelm hospitals in rural, pro-Trump states that don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it?”

A silver-tongued pig named Squealer is Napoleon’s PR agent. He twists the truth to spread propaganda among the barnyard animals, and it is through him that Orwell shows how politicians co-opt the language in order to suit their own ends. He causes the other animals to despair in hopelessness and their inability to learn the truth — much like the Justice Department under Barr and the Senate under Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Of the barnyard animals, Boxer seems to best reflect qualities of some of Trump’s supporters. Boxer is a strong horse, a hard worker and extremely loyal, though a slow thinker. His motto after the rebellion was “I will work harder,” to which “Napoleon is always right” was added under Squealer’s tutelage after Napoleon took control of the farm. His loyalty was not repaid in kind. He was sent to the glue factory when he became too old and tired to work, rather than the retirement pastures promised by Snowball to all the animals when the rebellion began.




Retired editor and political/investigative reporter. Worked for AP, UPI, Cape Cod Times and Brandeis University.

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Steven A Cohen

Steven A Cohen

Retired editor and political/investigative reporter. Worked for AP, UPI, Cape Cod Times and Brandeis University.

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