Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: Napoleon the Pig


Credit: Joanbanjo / Wikimedia Commons

Why should I be civil to them or to you? In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are the dullest dogs I know.

Don Juan speaking to the Devil, in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell

To face the Apocalypse we must fix squarely in the mind what Donald Trump is and what he’s not. These days I have frequently revisited George Orwell’s dark fable Animal Farm as an emblematic text from which much can be learned. “Animal Farm,” said Orwell, “was the first book in which I tried … to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”[1]

Among the animals of Orwell’s dark fable—the heroic cart-horse Boxer and the “motherly mare” Clover, Muriel the goat, Benjamin the donkey and Moses the Raven—none stands out for me more than Napoleon the Pig.

This is because I have a personal experience with pigs, dating back to when I was a small boy. Every year, my uncle would rent a small farm in Cuba to raise pigs and sell them for the Christmas festivities. Because I was intrigued by the animals, I would delight in accompanying my uncle—whom I loved—as he supervised the daily cleaning of the corrals and feeding of the pigs.

In my uncle’s farm there was a roofed corral that housed a monstrous pig. This awful animal, which I avoided assiduously, would sometimes be let out of his stall to spend the afternoon lying in an open sty, from which he would grunt summary commands to all other pigs. These would typically ignore him until feeding time, when my uncle’s pig would bolt out of his sty, push aside every pig in his way, bullying them with his massive weight, and rush to devour the food left for the herd at the communal trough. From this childhood scene I derived a simple conclusion: the life purpose of pigs is threefold—to eat, to grunt and to empty their bowels all over their surroundings.


“Pigs at the Trough,” painting by Joseph Crawhall III, 1884. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Time has turned Orwell’s “fairy story” into an allegory. Through a process of mythological transference, I cannot read about Napoleon the Pig without evoking in my mind the sights and sounds associated with My Uncle’s Pig; similarly, during these days between the presidential election and the inauguration, I have been unable to think of Donald Trump without reference to the vivid image of Comrade Napoleon, Orwell’s President of Animal Farm.


“Gloucester Old Spot,” painting by John Miles, 1834. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Like Napoleon, who has cornered the milk, beer and farmhouse of Animal Farm for himself and his circle of pigs and dogs, Donald Trump and his company of billionaires have conned their way to a plethora of riches (and to Trump Tower) from the bounty of the nation.

Trump, like Napoleon, has been fond of blaming others for the country’s problems and travails of his campaign: Barack Obama, the media, Hillary Clinton. In Animal Farm, every disaster was blamed on Jones, on counterrevolutionary agents from farms owned by humans, or on Snowball.

During the presidential campaign, Trump’s followers bleated chants that egged on his pronouncements at rallies: “Lock her Up!” and “Build the Wall!” Napoleon had a coterie of sheep that would interrupt meetings whenever his rivals spoke with a slogan that summed up the principles of Animalism: “Four legs good, two legs bad!”


Version of the flag of Animalism, in Animal Farm, by George Orwell. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When Napoleon secured his rule over Animal Farm, he discarded—in spectacular fashion—two of the central tenets of Animalism (“Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy” and “No animal shall wear clothes”). During an evening in early summer, the animals were amazed to see a parade of pigs walking on two legs, followed by Napoleon “majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling around him.” Soon the pigs took to wearing human clothes from the old farmhouse wardrobes,

Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favorite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wear on Sundays.

Indeed, Napoleon went so far as to eliminate the “Seven Commandments” of Animalism and substituted for them one single Commandment: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.” [2]

This I take to be prophetic of the Trump presidency. Napoleon came to power as an animal, ruled as an animal, but then aspired to become human (walk on two legs and wear human clothes); Trump ran as a clown, got elected because of his clowning, and now—after his victory in the presidential election—expects to be taken seriously. Even if we discard his past campaign pronouncements, the composition of his Cabinet makes clear that for Trump, SOME AMERICANS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.


“The Garden of Earthly Delights,” inner right wing detail, by Hieronymus Bosch, between 1480 and 1490. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a great lesson to be learned from Orwell’s tale. Napoleon’s rule in Animal Farm was based on two pillars of power. First, a gang of rabid dogs who were trained to keep the rest of the animals in check. But it is evident that the farm animals, as a group, were more than a match for the dogs. When inspired, the animals defeated an army of humans twice; on another occasion, Boxer did away with three dogs by himself, sending them on the run with their tails between their legs.

Second, what really kept the animals subservient was the work of Squealer (also) the Pig, Napoleon’s spokesperson (think Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway or Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer), who deftly persuaded the animals that they had not seen or heard what they saw and heard, that what they remembered never happened, that Napoleon did not mean what he had said, and that anyone but Napoleon was to be blamed for everything.

Much like a Trump collaborator appearing on TV, Squealer convinced the animals that Napoleon’s opposition to the construction of Snowball’s windmill was merely “tactics,” for he had always favored the windmill. He suggested that “the resolution against engaging in trade and using money had never been passed, or even suggested…. ‘Are you certain that this is not something that you have dreamed, comrades?’” Squealer trained the sheep secretly in their new chant (“Four legs good, two legs better!”) and re-wrote at night the “Seven Commandments” to conform to Napoleon’s directives. Most ignobly, Squealer influenced the animals to believe that Boxer was being taken to the hospital when he was actually being taken to the slaughterhouse.

In answer to all this and more, the animals would adopt Boxer’s maxims: “I will work harder” and “Comrade Napoleon is always right.” [3]

Moral of this post for the saints facing the Trump Apocalypse: do not confuse Donald Trump with Hitler or Mussolini; the more precise equivalence is with Napoleon the Pig. And also: do not succumb before temptation and fall prey to the wiles of Squealer! If the Devil is the Father of Lies, then Squealer is—at the very least—the Minion of Mendacity.


[1] Quoted by C.M. Woodhouse in his introduction to Animal Farm (1946; New York: Signet Classic, 1956), vii.

[2] Ibid., 33 and 122-123.

[3] Ibid., 62, 67, 122, 116


“The Cornell Farm,” oil on canvas, by Edward Hicks, 1848. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)



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