Email #283: “the Ministry of Truth”?

When you attempted to change the Office of Congressional Ethics in early January, the New York Times wrote:

“The claim by Mr. Ryan and Mr. Goodlatte (who, hilariously, leads the House Judiciary Committee) that gutting the office would improve “due process” for accused lawmakers is a marvel of Orwellian newspeak. So is Mr. Goodlatte’s insistence that dismantling the O.C.E. “builds upon and strengthens” it.”

The editors of the Roanoke Times and Staunton New Leader also titled letters I wrote about you in January: “Goodlatte is Orwellian” and “Goodlatte excels at doublespeak.” I wrote:

“Goodlatte talks like a character from a George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth: “With Republicans holding the White House and the majorities in both chambers of Congress, I am hopeful that we will now have an avenue to move bipartisan legislation that has been stalled over the past eight years.” If that legislation is “bipartisan” why only now is there an avenue to pass it? Goodlatte also told me he wanted us to unite and work together, but using a tactic that is overwhelmingly partisan is the opposite.”

So I was amused when you evoked “the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984” in a letter last month. I assume you know that sales of the novel spiked in January after White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway coined the phrase “alternative facts.” Four days later, the novel was Amazon’s top-seller. A Penguin spokesperson told CNN: “We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week.” A theater professor at my school and your alma mater, Washington and Lee University, had gotten the rights to produce the play, but as a result of the Trump-triggered popularity surge, she lost the adaptation when it moved to Broadway. W&L is producing an alternate version instead. Will you be attending it?

While I appreciate how tempting it must have been for you or one of your staff writers to direct an Orwellian allusion toward someone other than you or another member of the Republican party, I don’t think it’s a good idea to draw further attention to the novel. As the party currently controlling all three branches of the federal government, the GOP will inevitably attract the brunt of the comparisons. You have also inadvertently lengthened the already long list of browser results when users type “GOP” and “Orwell” into a search engine.

When reading your press releases and newsletter columns over the past nine months, I have been reminded of two terms from 1984, “Doublethink” and “Blackwhite.” According to Orwell, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” And Blackwhite is “a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands it. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

These two concepts have been useful for analyzing your various positions, especially when you ignore shortcomings of the current administration after having so doggedly criticized similar faults of the previous administration. Also some of your longest held principles–reducing federal spending for instance–seem to vanish when President Trump proposes expanded spending initiatives or budgets that rely on implausibly positive economic projections. Party discipline appears to be your guiding priority, regardless of contradictions.

It would of course be hyperbolic to call your House Judiciary Committee “the Ministry of Truth.” But it would only be hyperbolic–because you have provided the basis for the exaggeration. Assuming you earn a sentence or two in our grandchildren’s American history books, do you think those future authors will be tempted to encapsulate your role with the same hyperbole?


Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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