Critics are comparing U.S. President Donald Trump’s attacks on so-called “fake news” to the George Orwell book 1984, after the president urged supporters to ignore what they see with their own eyes.
“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump told a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday.
Trump was downplaying the impact of retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union on U.S. farmers, who have been targeted in response to tariffs first imposed by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration announced an infusion of US$12 billion to help farmers outlast the mounting trade war on Tuesday.
WATCH: Trump touts ‘tariffs are the greatest’ as farmers get $12B emergency boost
The president characterized the impact of the retaliatory tariffs as “fake news” at his appearance in Kansas City, where he urged supporters to stick with him through the crunch.
“It’s all working out,” Trump said.
However, many Trump critics were quick to compare Trump’s words to a line from the Orwell novel 1984, in which a dystopian government seeks to stamp out revolutionary thought by stifling free speech and eliminating disagreeable words from the English language.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” Orwell wrote.
Several Twitter users quoted the line in referring to Trump on Tuesday. “Orwell is laughing,” one user said.
Psychologist Daniel Effron says Trump and his administration often deflect criticism by focusing not on what’s true, but on what could have been true. It’s one of the ways Trump avoids admitting a falsehood when he’s cornered with the facts.
“It seems like in this quote, he’s disputing the factual basis of it, but he’s also trying to re-contextualize it,” Effron, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at London Business School, told Global News.
In other words, Trump seems to suggest there’s a more favourable way to read the situation, and he leaves it up to his sympathetic audience to fill in the blank.
“If they’re not focusing on [the facts]. They might be focusing on what they’re imagining to be true, or what they believe to be true,” Effron said.
Effron compared Trump’s comments on Tuesday to the infamous debate over his inauguration crowd size in early 2017.
Trump asserted at the time that there were more people at his inauguration than at Barack Obama’s in 2009, despite widely-circulated photo evidence to the contrary.
WATCH BELOW: Comparing Trump and Obama inauguration crowds
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary at the time.
Later, Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway claimed that Spicer was presenting “alternative facts” about the inauguration.
“At some point, they stopped saying that the falsehood was actually true, and they started saying the inauguration would’ve been bigger if the weather had been nicer or … if security hadn’t been so tight,” Effron said.
WATCH BELOW: Kellyanne Conway defends inauguration crowd size as ‘alternative facts’
“Logically, those don’t make the falsehood about the inauguration true, but psychologically, they bring that falsehood closer to the truth,” he said.