Potemkin Progressivism

By | 2017-07-12T14:32:50+00:00 June 22nd, 2017|
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It often has been observed that philosophy really got going when people started thinking seriously about the distinction between appearance, on the one hand, and reality, on the other. Plato is full of meditations on this theme, from the stick that appears bent when half submerged in a bowl of water to the texture and real significance of our experience of the everyday world.

The moral is: things are not always as they seem.

Alas, it is one thing to enunciate that moral in the abstract, quite another to take account of its operation on the ground.

Grigory Potemkin famously exploited our habit of innocence about appearances when he deployed a series of fake villages along the banks of the Dnieper River. His aim was to soothe his erstwhile lover Catherine the Great with the illusion of general prosperity as she floated past the smart-looking façades. After she passed, the ensemble would be hastily disassembled, moved down river, and reassembled to greet the Empress anew.

There is a lot of Potemkin in the current ululations of the Left. Thousands upon thousands of unhappy females congregate on the Washington Mall to prance around in their vagina costumes and pussy hats while whining about Donald Trump.

Is the behavior of today’s Left just a façade, or is could it be indicative of something more substantive and troubling behind the door?

U.S. Rep.  Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) jumps up and down on the floor of the House warning about Trump’s possible “collusion” with the Russians. The siege machines of the mainstream media  wheel themselves into place to repeat, elaborate, fantasize about what Schiff and his anti-Trump colleagues dream about, hurling little spit balls of accusation and innuendo over the walls of the public’s incredulity.

Hollywood, the academy, the “arts community” join hands to chant their anti-Trump mantras, hoping for deliverance from the awful truth of the election of 2016. Their aim? A sartori, a nirvana in which no one had ever heard of Donald Trump but only the pants-suited deliverer of their dreams.

Everywhere there is talk of “resistance,” disruption, unrest, even impeachment. This, even though the thing being resisted is the result of a free, open democratic election and the call for impeachment is not in response to any evidence of a crime, much less a “high crime or misdemeanor” to propel such a proceeding.

And now we have Robert Mueller, bosom buddy of James Comey, as special counsel. Like Santa Claus, he is making his list and checking it twice, filling his sleigh with Obama and Clinton attack dogs, and preparing to make his round-the-town journey to distribute presents to every deserving boy and girl Democrat. He has his verdict. All he needs now is a tort, and that’s what those salivating Obama-and-Clinton terriers are for: digging, digging, digging. There has to be something, somewhere that they can pin on Trump!

Looked from the outside, you might think that the “progressive” Left were on the march, that they were a rising force, voice of the people, popular-sentiment-against-entrench-interests,” etc., etc.

That may be the appearance. The reality is that Republicans control the Presidency, the House, the Senate, 67 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the nation, and 33 Governorships, their largest number since 1922.

Just the other day, we were treated to the most expensive House race in the nation’s history as money from Hollywood, Manhattan, and Martha’s Vineyard poured in to back Jon Ossoff, the great white hope to shatter the juggernaut of Republican victories. The Dems picked the one really soft-spot in Georgia (Trump had taken it by only 1 percent in 2016) and spent at least $23.6 million to defeat Karen Handel, a weakish candidate but a Republican and therefore a possible scalp. It was supposed to be a “referendum on Trump.” And maybe it was. But the referendum did not go the way the Democrats hoped it would and Handel offed Ossoff 52 percent to 48 percent. By my count, that makes the special election score since November 9: Republicans 5, Democrats 0.

So there are grounds for thinking that the hysteria on the Left is just so much infantile caterwauling: they did not get the all-day sucker they were promised so they are going to sit down in the middle of the floor and wail and wail and wail. Litigate, too, no doubt, but even that will be conducted in tantrum tones.

I think that conclusion is mostly right. And I believe that Trump would be well advised to leave the Democrats in their bawl room, their boudoir (French for “room for pouting in”) while he gets on with the business of running, and improving, the country, which, by the way, he is doing very well.

[T]he chief task for those interested in preserving a system in which the results of open, democratic elections are respected will be in effectively discriminating between the harmless, though pathetic, hysteria of the anti-Trump babies and the more toxic exfoliations of their menacing brothers and sisters.

Still, it is worth noting that the deceiving nature of appearances cuts many ways and is often difficult to parse accurately. For the most part, the actions of the Potemkin progressives are just exhibitions of temperament, whining, childish static that cannot be reasoned with, only pampered and put to bed for a nice long nap.

The tantrum-like behavior is not quite irrational, however. The Democrats really are on an historic losing streak. In 2008, they came to town on a tsunami of hope-’n-change euphoria. But the wrecking ball that was Barack Obama soon brought that illusion crashing down. Now they are like some threatened animal that, largely defenseless, has developed the ability to appear threatening by puffing itself up, changing color, emitting startling sounds, bristling quills, and the like. Zoologists call this activity “deimatic behavior,” after a Greek verb meaning “to frighten.”

Deimatic behavior is all show and no spear: that is, the animal might look or sound or smell threatening, but it is all bluff. Really, it is just a tasty moth, frog, California Democrat, or whatever.

But sometimes the appearance is not deceiving. The animal really does taste bad, is poisonous, or can fight back effectively. Those cases zoologists call aposematic behavior: a warning signal accompanied by retaliatory potential. As one article on the subject explains, “Non-bluffing (aposematic) displays occur in mammals which possess powerful defences such as spines or stink glands, and which habitually warn off potential predators rather than attempting escape by running.”

This describes some meaningful proportion of the anti-Trump menagerie. And this means that the chief task for those interested in preserving a system in which the results of open, democratic elections are respected will be in effectively discriminating between the harmless, though pathetic, hysteria of the anti-Trump babies and the more toxic exfoliations of their menacing brothers and sisters. The latter will often dress and act the same as the former, but one group is content to shout and cry and whine while the other side is out there bashing people over the head with bicycle locks, smashing up property, abusing the legal system to destroy its political enemies, or gunning down Republican Congressmen while they practice baseball. Distinguishing between the two groups is an element of connoisseurship that it behooves those of us who care for the future of the republic to master.

 

 

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About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.