Of Boiling and Jumping Frogs

It’s said that if you toss a frog into a pot of hot water it will instantly jump out. If, however, you toss it into a pot of cold water and then very gradually increase the heat to the boiling point, the frog will linger languidly in the increasingly hot bath as it is slowly cooked alive. 

Despotic politicians who also abhor the fuss of public unrest have long noted the application of this apologue to human affairs. In early March 2020, if Anthony Fauci had said that we were about to shut down the economy for two years, force people to wear paper masks, “socially distance,” and forcibly prevent people from going to church, or visiting their dying friends and relatives, there might well have been a revolt. 

But that isn’t how it happened. Fauci and the health police got everything they wanted, they destroyed thousands of middle-class businesses, enriched the entitled class, and, more generally, made fools and peons of us all. But they did it slowly. “Two weeks to flatten the curve.” Remember that? Remember when, early on, Fauci said that it would be fine for young, healthy people to go on a cruise? Remember when he pooh-poohed the effectiveness of masks

Whatever else they demonstrated, the regime’s COVID policies, and the public’s response to those policies, showed that entire populations could be herded and shorn like sheep. All you needed was a public health pretext—not a genuine emergency, mind you, just a pretext—and battalions of aspiring Gauleiters willing to enforce the rules and, bang, instant and prolonged hysteria. 

Like a well masticated stick of chewing gum, COVID has lost its savor. New gambits must be devised to cow the public. “Climate change” and green energy are hardy perennials, but the economic devastation wrought by their advocates has stripped the sheen off those baubels of elite, virtue-signaling. 

Economics may not be a science, exactly, but you do not have to be Milton Friedman to understand that if you shut down large swathes of your own energy industry while printing trillions of dollars in so-called “stimulus” money, the result will be sharply rising prices and runaway inflation. Which is exactly what we have, courtesy of Joe Biden and his bureaucratic minders. 

Just a few weeks ago the water was still tepid. Then Vladimir Putin handed Biden a large gift. He invaded Ukraine. Suddenly, every failure could be blamed on Putin, on Russia, on someone or something other than the senile incompetents running the United States. 

Gas prices at eye-watering levels? Blame it on Putin, even though it was Biden’s decision to shutter large sectors of the American energy industry that got that ball rolling. 

It did not take Biden long to go from suggesting that a “minor incursion” from Russia into Ukraine would be acceptable to hopping on to the neocon chest-beating wagon. The great thing about events (“the crisis” according to every TV news story) in Ukraine is that it can be wheeled out to explain away every failure as well as prep the populace for future depredations. “The price of the sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia,” Biden eagerly acknowledged. “It’s imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well, including European countries and our country as well.” 

You can say that again. People were just absorbing the news about rising energy costs and inflation when they were hit with a term that, just yesterday, seemed almost quaint in the developed world: “food shortages.” One day Jen Psaki assured reporters “we’re not expecting a food shortage here at home.” Then her boss corrected her: “With regard to food shortage, yes, we did talk about food shortages, and it’s going to be real,” he said

The Jacuzzi’s getting a little warm, isn’t it? And if our rulers can destroy the economy and make us more dependent by sanctioning Russia (which also, as Biden admitted, means sanctioning ourselves), just think what they would be able to do should they actually contrive to go to war with Russia. Expect not only greater economic hardship but also a sharp increase in social control, censorship, and intolerance. 

So far, Biden has kept some distance from the warmongers in the regime media. But I wonder if his resolve is faltering. Just the other day, speaking to members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Poland, the mask seemed to slip a bit. “You’re going to see when you’re there,” he said (emphasis mine), “you’re going to see women, young people, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, saying, ‘I’m not leaving.’” Softening us up for boots on the ground? 

The White House quickly walked that back. (Is there a new department in the White House press office dedicated exclusively to reformulating what the president and vice-president say for public consumption?) By “when you’re there,” a White House spokesman said, the president did not mean to imply that he was preparing to send them to Ukraine. 

It was the same with his speech in Poland on Friday. He stated explicitly that Vladimir Putin could not remain in power. “For God’s sake,” he said, “this man cannot remain in power.” Fighting words, what? Wars have been started over less inflammatory language. 

But then the White House emitted some mollifying “updates.” “The president’s point,” you see, “was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

I wonder if Putin got that memo.

Maybe he did. 

But maybe not; what then, since Biden is also depending on Putin to help broker the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran

It is difficult to plumb the depths of cynicism that fires the Biden Administration’s motions with respect to Ukraine. On the one hand, we are being invited to join in a grandiose morality play in which the great white-hatted forces of the West talk endlessly about peace and democracy while waging or at least fomenting war. On the other hand, the war drums drown out the cries of ordinary people, those millions of people Hillary Clinton and her ilk dismiss as “deplorable,” who acknowledge Putin’s crimes but also acknowledge Ukraine’s deep corruption and totalitarian leanings and wonder why we are strangling ourselves to intervene in that battle.

The ostensible reason, of course, is to export truth, justice, and the American way, and to teach that bully Putin a lesson. The real reason, I suspect, is to consolidate power at home while attempting to fire up the war-profit machine abroad. So far, Americans have gritted their teeth and taken it. I am not sure, however, that those with their fingers on the knobs of the burner have been sufficiently careful about how quickly they are raising the temperature. Things can get out of hand very quickly, and I am not just talking about military showdowns. 

When average families can no longer pay their rent or mortgage, gas up their car, or even put food on the table, all bets are off. Our rulers think they have anesthetized those portions of the population they have not simply bought off. They might find that there is quite a lot of jump left in the frog yet. If so, they may be the ones in hot water.

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), 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).

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