George Orwell gave us democracy’s greatest “fairy story.” He told us that once upon a time, there was a place called Manor Farm with some amazing animals who led a revolution. It began with a boar, Old Major, who had a dream of life without tyranny, in which the animals were no longer oppressed by Farmer Jones, their despotic human. The dream inspired the pigs, led by Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, to kick Jones off the farm. They then wrote rules, called commandments, to ensure that all on the newly created Animal Farm remained free and equal.
Over time, however, Napoleon and Squealer began to act more and more like the tyrannical Jones. Napoleon turned his attack dogs on the idealistic Snowball, and then gave special privileges to the pigs. Squealer’s job was to explain it all away. It was better for Napoleon to make the decisions, he said, because Napoleon was the cleverest. The pigs must have all the milk and apples, he maintained, because they do the brain work. If they didn’t have them, Squealer warned, catastrophe would befall the farm. He declared that Snowball, who had tried to teach the animals to read, was really a traitor.
The animals accepted these explanations, even as the pigs moved into the farmhouse and the rest saw their rations cut. Storms took down a major windmill project and the disaster was blamed on Snowball and the animals, themselves. Show trials were held in which Napoleon purged accused traitors, and his attack dogs ripped out their throats. No matter how hard times became, Boxer (a workhorse) simply affirmed, “Napoleon is always right” and “I will work harder.”
Despite their desperate living conditions, the animals didn’t want the other farms to think that theirs was failing. When Boxer finally collapsed, a wagon from the glue factory carted him away. Meanwhile, the neighboring humans commented on Napoleon’s success in getting the animals to work harder with less food than was had on any of their farms, and he declared his intent to ally with them against the beasts of labor. When these rushed to check the commandments, only one remained, that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Orwell’s fable pleased a triumphant Western world by exposing the hypocrisies of Soviet communism. Today, however, we might see ourselves in his story, including the major characters and plot twists. The parallels are uncanny. And like the popular musical mashups, our story could be fused with another, in the form of the Emperor who has no clothes; who swaggers through “America Farm” to the acclaim of followers who see not the naked flesh, but rather a Brioni tuxedo and polished oxfords. And so, our story begins.
America Farm had Old Majors who dreamed of a land where the “animals” were free and equal. These Old Majors drove out their oppressive farmer, created a democracy and wrote “commandments,” including that all animals are created equal. America Farm wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it improved with time, and soon became the most prosperous and highly educated farm.
The dream, however, had always teetered on an uneasy balance. Some of the Old Majors had thought that freedom meant the government should protect private property, and to heck with how the owners got it or who did without. They even thought that merit could be inherited, so the children of those who had worked could continue to enjoy its fruits without having to labor themselves. Other Old Majors thought that an unequal distribution of property would create a powerful class that would make wage slaves of the rest and destroy both the economy and democracy. For these, ownership was a form of power, and so freedom also meant freedom from its oppressive exercise in society.
One day, “morning in America” is declared, and the Squealers explain that more milk and apples must be given to the pigs, because they are the brains of the farm and create jobs for the rest. The Boxers agree and begin to chant, “The Napoleons are always right”; “What is good for the Napoleons is good for America Farm”; and “I will work harder.” Taxes go down on the Napoleons and their incomes rise dramatically. Rations for the Boxers are cut. Thirty-plus years go by with their wages stagnant or in decline, and their benefits are slashed. Meanwhile, government largesse favors the Napoleons as the price of health care and education soar. During these austere times for the Boxers, the pigs throw million-dollar parties on exotic islands, complete with vodka-urinating ice sculptures. They purchase $4,200 toothbrushes and insist that their tax burden must be lighter still or they simply can’t invest, though they take in around 99 percent of all new income and have trillions stashed in offshore accounts. Corporate profits are at an all-time high.
There is hushed talk of crony capitalism, but the Squealers insist that the Napoleons represent a merit-based society, even when they inherit their wealth or are the recipients of government favors, while the Boxers represent an entitlement society (reaping where they do not sow), even when they work. If the gap is growing between the rich and the rest, they insist, it is because the Boxers don’t work hard enough and there are illegal animals on the farm. The Boxers agree, and chant, “I will work harder.”
A band of Squealers from the house of Fox emerges. They have loud megaphones and insist that the Boxers are paid plenty and that the darker-skinned ones are whiney. A bald, chubby Squealer who snorts cocaine and is on his fourth marriage promotes “family values,” as does a skinny blonde Squealer who wears a cross and loves Jesus, but not Muslims or animals from other farms, and also a Pillsbury Dough Boy Squealer, who is a serial adulterer and thinks poor puppies should work as janitors in the schools (that would humble haughty union members). An especially vicious Evangelical attack dog who demonizes same-sex relations is also a serial same-sex puppy molester.
The Squealers inform the rest that neither history nor science are as they remember, and new school books appear, sometimes funded by Napoleons. When the Napoleons and their businesses buy politicians, the Squealers insist that the animals’ memory of the commandments fails them. They remember them as protecting against corporate groups — churches prevented from forcing animal consciences and East India Tea Companies not getting special favors (the animals remember this one as having led Old Majors of the past to dump tea in Boston Harbor). The Squealers, however, maintain that corporations are animals, too, and money is speech, so their spending is a first commandment right. (Some animals wonder if that means corporations should vote as well, and whether talk of voter suppression refers to corporate disenfranchisement.)
Napoleons from the pharmaceutical industry reward a political pig named Tauzin for ushering in a prescription drug program to subsidize the medicinal needs of the elderly. Mandating that the Snowballs not be allowed to negotiate prices or import cheaper drugs from neighboring farms means that top dollar is paid as compared to the farm’s similar program for soldiers. These Napoleons then hire Tauzin at an estimated $2 million a year. Meanwhile, the Boxers on America Farm repeat, “What is good for the Napoleons is good for America Farm.” They keep this up, even when a certain smug Napoleon raises the price of an anti-parasitic drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill, simply because he can, and another raises the price of EpiPens from $57 to $500.
America Farm suffers a tremendous storm, with many fallen windmills. While it appears that reckless finance and a host of shenanigans collapse the farm, the Squealers emphasize Boxers who borrowed foolishly. Failing banks and corporations are bailed out, because “what is best for the Napoleons is best for America Farm,” and the failed Napoleons are rewarded with huge bonuses, because it is a merit-based society and “the Napoleons are always right.” No one is prosecuted for fraud because the Napoleons are “too big to jail.” Some whisper that, on neighboring Iceland Farm, the storm was handled differently.
The huge bailouts, however, give rise to concerns over the farm’s budget. A pig named Grover pressures the Snowballs to pledge not to raise taxes. Pack dogs emerge to take down any who try to renege on it, and show trials are held at election time. Some get their throats ripped out and are never heard from again. Boxer pensions are sacrificed.
A white-haired Snowball from the Vermont fields of America Farm decries all of this as a betrayal of the commandments; as socialism for the Napoleons and a Darwinian jungle for the rest. But most of the Snowballs have abandoned the Boxers.
A White House Snowball takes steps to restore the economy, but job growth is slow, the new jobs provide lower wages, and the lion’s share of the gains go to the Napoleons, who nevertheless turn their dogs against the Snowball. Outside observers admire the Napoleons’ ability to get the Boxers to work harder with less food. The Boxers start to sniff glue and die early. They don’t want the other farms to think that America Farm has failed (“America is exceptional,” they insist, “America number one”). Charities devoted to the world’s poorest farms begin operating on America Farm.
Then one day — surprisingly, unexpectedly — a character from a fairytale on the far end of the bookcase goes rogue and barges onto America Farm. He appears descending an escalator and demanding to be elected Emperor. Little by little, however, his clothes disappear, and he threatens to expose more than just his small hands.
The Emperor Storms America Farm
The Emperor, it turns out, repeatedly declares bankruptcy, runs fraudulent businesses and mostly licenses his name rather than build. Moreover, he stiffs the Boxers who work for him and takes rather than gives to his charities. He’s not a good Squealer, claiming his bankruptcies prove he’s brilliant and his Boxers don’t deserve their pay. And then, off slides the tuxedo jacket, swish the bow tie, snap go the suspenders, swoosh the cummerbund, and his pants fall to his ankles.
Yet, the Emperor struts, unaware. What he lacks in Squealer talent, he makes up for in tall tales and attack dog skills. Among his many stories, he says that the White House Snowball was born on Kenya Farm; that Chinese Farm created the hoax of global warming; and that Muslim Boxers cheered at 9/11. Plus, they all know the terrorists who threaten America Farmand so should be registered and where possible, kept out. The current Snowballs, he claims, are traitors who created the farm’s enemies and a rival’s father helped assassinate a beloved former Snowball. He specializes in insults — especially when it comes to females — and attacks Boxers with disabilities, those with accents and those of a different color. He turns Boxer against Boxer, incites them to violence, and pledges to bring back torture and eliminate the families of suspected enemies. He promises to jail his political opponent and silence the press, and since all of this proves immensely popular with some, he succeeds in keeping his shirt.
Boxers, however, are patriotic, and the Emperor (who received draft deferments) attacks a former POW as well as the family of a fallen soldier. Then it is revealed that, despite his gold, he pays no taxes, which he says makes him “smart“
Suddenly, his onyx shirt studs and cufflinks fly, followed by his polished oxfords and Brooks Brothers’ hose. The garters smack his small hands. Squealers in Washington are losing their clothes as well, so they try to deflect from the damage. A show trial indicts the Emperor’s opponent in front of convention crowds, with chants of “lock her up.”
Many Boxers like it when the Emperor calls those from Mexican Farm “criminals” and “rapists,” pledging to build a wall to keep them out, and questioning the professionalism of their American Farm descendants. They relish the tribal divisions, rebel flags, pointy white hats and robes, and the occasional sucker punch. Boxers, however, are protective of their women, and when the Emperor reveals his sexual predation, all hell breaks loose, as does his pleated shirt and silk boxers. Why these revelations catch the animals by surprise is a mystery. The Emperor is a thrice-married adulterer who covets his daughter; a crude-talking casino man who has a history of objectifying females.
But the Squealers and most of the Boxers continue to see a successful Napoleon sporting a tuxedo, and these include the “family values” crowd, who consider the Two Corinthians-reading Emperor the candidate of Jesus. The candidate who pledged to “drain the swamp” creates the wealthiest cabinet in modern America Farm history. As the rest of America Farmfrantically consults the commandments (This can’t be happening! Not here!), they find something odd on the side of the barn. Fresh paint reads, “All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”