Donald Trump’s first three weeks in office have been rather tumultuous, yet surreal at the same time, and the references by many to dystopian novels have been plentiful.
1984 is the bestselling book of the past few weeks as the articles making comparisons between Trump’s tenure as president and Orwell’s “fictional” world immediately began to circulate when he took office and began to decree his executive orders.
References to other books like Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World have also been made numerous times.
But there may be another writer who has eerily framed the present with past works.
That is Theodor Seuss Geisel. He is known to most people as Dr. Seuss.
In February of 2009, the eclectic magazine Mental Floss, published an article written by Stacy Conradt entitled “10 Stories Behind Dr. Seuss Stories” that provided background content for some of Theodor Seuss Geisel most well-known stories (http://mentalfloss.com/article/28843/10-stories-behind-dr-seuss-stories).
If you have never read a copy of Mental Floss, then treat yourself. It’s a rather nerdy respite from the world and highly engaging. We have subscribed to it for years.
When that article came out, I printed it and posted it to the peg board in my room at school. Occasionally, the need to reference Seuss still comes up in class.
Known for his ability to weave issues that surrounded the current political and social landscape of his time, Dr. Seuss was able to craft complex allegorical stories in such a way that it was palpable to the imagination of a child and the intellect of an aware adult.
However, while the stories themselves have reached an age that spans decades, their applicability and messages still have power and may be more relevant to the present than ever before.
Conradt specifically named 10 of Suess’s stories. While I will not refer to all of them, I will put in bold her descriptions of the texts she lists and then follow with my own observations.
- “The Lorax is widely recognized as Dr. Seuss’ take on environmentalism and how humans are destroying nature.”
Think of the executive orders that Trump signed in the first week that restarted the Keystone Pipeline construction and his move to take us out of the Paris Agreement. Add to that the freezing of grant programs for the EPA, the appointment of a controversial individual to head the EPA, and the shutting down the twitter accounts of the National Parks, and one can see how Trump has not really been the president that the Sierra Club would have wanted.
- “Green Eggs and Ham. Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’ editor, bet him that he couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less. The Cat in the Hat was pretty simple, after all, and it used 225 words. Not one to back down from a challenge, Mr. Geisel started writing and came up with Green Eggs and Ham—which uses exactly 50 words.”
Have you ever looked at the comments made by linguists who have studied the rhetoric of Trump on the campaign trail? They talk about the preponderance of one-syllable words and the repetition he uses. The only “Script” that I know of that uses more one-syllable words is the movie 300, but it had much better visuals.
- “Horton Hears a Who! The line from the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” has been used as a slogan for pro-life organizations for years. It’s often questioned whether that was Seuss’ intent in the first place, but when he was still alive, he threatened to sue a pro-life group unless they removed his words from their letterhead.”
Trump’s stance on abortion at one time was pro-choice, but it changed rather swiftly when he converted to the GOP and began to court the evangelical vote. However, while there may be a pro-life argument to be made with the text of Horton, it is the fact that Trump wanted to represent the average American that makes this book applicable – he wanted to let all “Whos” be heard.
Maybe that is why he has the most homogeneous cabinet in recent history and appointed more people from Wall Street to his cabinet than from Main Street.
- “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!It’s often alleged that this book was written specifically about Richard Nixon, but the book came out only two months after the whole Watergate scandal. It’s unlikely that the book could have been conceived of, written, edited, and mass produced in such a short time; also, Seuss never admitted that the story was originally about Nixon.”
But the Trump – Nixon parallel has been made by many. In fact, Nixon seems rather fond of Trump.
- “Yertle the Turtle= Hitler? Yep. If you haven’t read the story, here’s a little overview: Yertle is the king of the pond, but he wants more. He demands that other turtles stack themselves up so he can sit on top of them to survey the land. Mack, the turtle at the bottom, is exhausted. He asks Yertle for a rest; Yertle ignores him and demands more turtles for a better view. Eventually, Yertle notices the moon and is furious that anything dare be higher than himself, and is about ready to call for more turtles when Mack burps. This sudden movement topples the whole stack, sends Yertle flying into the mud, and frees the rest of the turtles from their stacking duty.”
I am going to stay away from this one. Saturday Night Live has touched a little on this one.
- “Butter Battle Book was pulled from the shelves of libraries for a while because of the reference to the Cold War and the arms race. Yooks and Zooks are societies who do everything differently. …The book concludes with each side ready to drop their ultimate bombs on each other, but the reader doesn’t know how it actually turns out.”
Trump / Putin? Check. Nuclear Arms race about to start again? Check.
- “Oh The Places You’ll Go is Dr. Seuss’ final book, published in 1990. It sells about 300,000 copies every year because so many people give it to college and high school grads.”
With Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education and revelations about the actions of Trump University, it seems that many of those future graduates are meant to come from schools that were once public but now “reformed” into privatized entities.
- “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! In the Dr. Seuss-sanctioned cartoon, Frankenstein’s Monster himself, Boris Karloff, provided the voice of the Grinch and the narration. Seuss was a little wary of casting him because he thought his voice would be too scary for kids.”
I actually thought more of Steve Bannon with this one.
- And I will add two others myself starting with The Sneetches. “Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.”
If you have never read The Sneetches then do so because you will see the obvious parallels to the Jewish nation when they had to be identified with a yellow star of David. With the recent debacle of not mentioning the Jews in reference to the Holocaust Remembrance Day, it seems this story would make all of us remember who was truly victimized.
- And then there is The Big Brag.
- “It’s gonna be huge.”
- “It’s gonna be great.”
- “We’re going to make America great again.”
- “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”