WASHINGTON — At the headquarters of the Department of Education, President Trump signed a memorandum this morning declaring the mathematical statement “2 + 2 = 5” to be “valid for all purposes” in the United States.
In a sharp break with the attitudes of the Obama administration, the one-page edict also stated that “algabra [sic] is dumb,” although it was not clear whether the latter statement carried the force of an order, or should be considered explanatory in nature. Regardless, public attention has focused almost entirely on the “2 + 2 = 5” portion of the declaration.
“It’s about doing what the President has said all along: making America great again,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a briefing today. “The people of this nation want more, and they finally have a leader who will give it to them. No excuses. The liberal elite want to enslave Americans to the belief that 4 is all they can have, but in President Trump’s America, we can have 5. And now we do.”
A presidential memorandum, much like an executive order, has authority only over the executive branch, so it was not immediately clear what the scope of the directive would be. But Spicer said that more legal backing would be forthcoming from Congress in the months to come.
The President’s move was met with swift backlash from a wide range of groups, including mathematicians, civil rights organizations, Democrats, and third graders.
“I don’t think that’s right,” said nine-year-old Emma Carlton, who goes to elementary school in Rushville, Indiana. “Isn’t it four? I think two plus two is four.”
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, also slammed the order. “The President does not have the constitutional authority to decide something like this,” he said. When asked which specific part of the Constitution forbids mathematical statements, Romero said they were “looking into it. But if you have two amendments, and then you get two more amendments, you’re up to the Fourth Amendment, not the Fifth. So I think that should count for something.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an unofficial adviser and advocate for Mr. Trump, dismissed the criticism. “They want our country to fail,” he said. “They want our sums to be tiny so the rest of the world can surpass us. We shouldn’t be surprised. This has been going on for thirty years. And now we have a President who’s finally willing to do something, and he gets attacked in his first month in office? It’s pathetic.”
A source within the administration says that Mr. Trump’s chief adviser, Steve Bannon, was the driving force behind the memorandum. Bannon, the controversial former head of Breitbart News and a self-described leader of the alt-right, reportedly mulled over several variant drafts before sending the final order to the President. Ideas discussed but ultimately discarded include “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength.” According to the source, one senior aide suggested “Black is white” and was fired on the spot.
A number of critics have pointed out that the use of “2 + 2 = 5” as a political statement appears in the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, as do all three of the draft statements. “It’s unbelievable,” said Dr. Marcus Jay, a professor of literature at the University of Wisconsin. “This is literally Orwellian. I mean, it’s just exactly the same as what’s in the book. How could anyone support this?”
But the administration was quick to counter. In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called the literary argument “completely hypocritical. Look, you’ve got the word ‘and,’ which occurs hundreds of times in the book. Obama said ‘and’ constantly. But nobody’s talking about that. If the media were honest, that’s the story they’d be covering, instead of hyperventilating over this completely innocuous order.”
Spicer, during his briefing, also gave what he called a “proof” of the President’s mathematical statement. “If I take 2 inches plus 2 millimeters, I get 5 centimeters. Ask a scientist, if you don’t believe me.” Later in the press conference, when a reporter countered that 2 inches plus 2 millimeters was in fact 5.28 centimeters, Spicer seemed to grow agitated. “So first you were saying 2 + 2 = 4, and now you’re saying it’s 5.28. If you can’t even decide for yourself what it is, what are you doing criticizing us?”
While congressional Democrats were quick to condemn this “math by fiat,” GOP leaders offered more qualified criticism. “I agree with the President that we need our numbers to be as high as possible,” offered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “But historically, numerical sums have been an issue for the states to decide, and I think we want to respect that.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan likewise stated that “it has not traditionally been the government’s place to dictate arithmetic,” but stopped short of calling for the order to be revoked. “I think we need to look at this more. We’re working with the President, and we’re going to take a look at this. I think we can come to an agreement as we also focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
Fact-checking site Politifact gave the “2 + 2 = 5” statement its lowest rating, “Pants on Fire.” But some conservative pundits offered a full-throated endorsement of the President’s order.
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity focused on the type of numerals being used. “These digits are called Arabic numerals. That’s the actual name, you can look that up. And these people, these radical alt-left Islamic socialists, are willing to bow down and accept whatever the Arabic numerals tell them. And anyone who doesn’t like that is going to be labeled ‘racist’ or ‘anti-math.’ We should be thankful we finally have a leader who will put America first. We decide what the Arabic numbers do, and they obey us.”
Newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she had not been informed of the order before it was signed, but she was supportive. “The President is saying that 2 + 2 = 5. A lot of people still say 2 + 2 = 4, and of course we want to be open-minded. We want to give parents a choice and give students a choice. Let’s teach the controversy.”
International reaction has been largely muted, with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull assuring the press that reports of an “arithmetical rift” between his nation and the United States were greatly exaggerated.
A spokesman for the Kremlin was unable to comment, as he was laughing too hard to catch his breath.