IT'S BUSHY EYEBROWS ALL THE WAY DOWN
The Morning Call wonders what it is, all the way down
For longtime readers, what you are about to see may shock you. But Mister, we could use a man like Misha Gor-ba-chev again.
What do we mean? Well…just that. We could use a guy like ol’ Gorby right now.
For those of you who haven’t been around long enough to know – or the one or two of you who think you have better things to do with your lives than memorize how we feel about every historical figure (as if!) – as historical/political heroes go, we give Gorbachev an overwhelming “meh.” He wasn’t a bad guy. But he wasn’t a hero either. The whole “Gorby as savior of the world” thing was started by Democrats – people like the hacktacular Strobe Talbott – who had to make Gorbachev the hero of the Cold War story because they were too bitter, too ideologically stunted, too self-righteous ever to admit that Reagan was right.
Gorby, shmorby, we say. Team B, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush won the Cold War. They figured out the right buttons to push to cause the Soviet system’s inadequacies to manifest themselves in the most damaging ways. And as a result, the system collapsed.
Of course, if you’re desperately looking for one, tiny advantage that the Soviet system might have had over the American political system, it’s this: most Soviet leaders had other positions, other jobs in the state bureaucracy before they became the big cheese. They had to work their way up through the system, in other words. Whereas Joe Biden spent the 50 years before becoming president practicing being perfectly wrong about every foreign policy question he ever encountered and mugging for the news cameras, Mikhail Gorbachev had to run an administrative region. He was the First Secretary of the Stavropol region, and, as such, his primary responsibility was to increase annual agricultural harvests.
It may not sound like much, but this was tremendous preparation for his ultimate role in the Soviet hierarchy, General Secretary of the Communist Party.
You see, the Soviets’ agricultural woes didn’t die with Lysenko. Irrespective of what harvests were really like, lower regional officials had to convince upper regional officials that the harvests were great. Upper regional officials then had to convince lower national officials that harvests were greater than great. Lower national officials then, of course, had to convince upper national officials that the harvests were greater than greater than great. And everyone had to convince the General Secretary that the harvests were the best ever! Everyone lied, and everyone had to get good at lying. That’s how it worked.
In his 2018 book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, the Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari noted that this type of self-serving, self-preservational deception is an ineluctable characteristic of totalitarian systems:
From 1958 to 1961 communist China undertook the Great Leap Forward, when Mao Zedong wished to rapidly turn China into a superpower. Intending to use surplus grain to finance ambitious industrial projects, Mao ordered the doubling and tripling of agricultural production. From the government offices in Beijing his impossible demands made their way down the bureaucratic ladder, through provincial administrators, all the way down to the village headmen. The local officials, afraid of voicing any criticism and wishing to curry favor with their superiors, concocted imaginary reports of dramatic increases in agricultural output. As the fabricated numbers made their way back up the bureaucratic hierarchy, each official exaggerated them further, adding a zero here or there with a stroke of a pen. Consequently, in 1958 the Chinese government was informed that annual grain production was 50 per cent more than it actually was. Believing the reports, the government sold millions of tons of rice to foreign countries in exchange for weapons and heavy machinery, assuming that enough was left to feed the Chinese population. The result was the worst famine in history and the death of tens of millions of Chinese.
Meanwhile, enthusiastic reports of China’s farming miracle reached audiences throughout the world. Julius Nyerere, the idealistic president of Tanzania, was deeply impressed by the Chinese success. In order to modernize Tanzanian agriculture, Nyerere resolved to establish collective farms on the Chinese model. When peasants objected to the plan, Nyerere sent the army and police to destroy traditional villages and forcibly relocate hundreds of thousands of peasants onto the new collective farms. Government propaganda depicted the farms as miniature paradises, but many of them existed only in government documents. The protocols and reports written in the capital Dar es Salaam said that on such-and-such a date the inhabitants of such-and-such village were relocated to such-and-such farm. In reality, when the villagers reached their destination, they found absolutely nothing there. No houses, no fields, no tools. Officials nevertheless reported great successes to themselves and to President Nyerere. In fact, within less than ten years Tanzania was transformed from Africa’s biggest food exporter into a net food importer that could not feed itself without external assistance. In 1979, 90 per cent of Tanzanian farmers lived on collective farms, but they generated only 5 per cent of the country’s agricultural output.
The post-Stalin Soviet Union was never as bad as Mao’s China in this sense, but it was bad enough. And Gorbachev knew this – because he had done it! He had been one of the liars, one of the key people in convincing upper Soviet leadership that everything was going great down in the farm.
When disaster befell Chernobyl, just one year into Gorbachev’s rule, the onetime liar about harvests realized that agriculture was hardly the only field in which such deception was endemic. He learned that it was everywhere, in every aspect of Soviet life. Chernobyl was the point at which Gorbachev realized that not only was everyone lying, they always had been. The Soviet Union was Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no there there.
At that moment, Gorbachev was forced to choose a path forward. The system he embraced, that he was, indeed, immersed in, that constituted everything he had ever known, was a fraud, a joke, a disaster. He could choose to acknowledge that, accept reality, and do his best to undo the damage that his disastrous weltanschauung had done; or he could choose to deny OBJECTIVE reality, maintain his personal power and quasi-religious righteousness, and fight on to the bitter end. Fortunately for everyone, he chose the former.
Now, as we have always said, this didn’t make him a hero. It made him a realist.
Neverthelss, being a realist differentiated from his contemporaries and his predecessors. Make no mistake, they saw the same things he saw. They knew the same things he knew. They had the same choice he had. The difference is that they ALL chose the latter option above. They all chose their personal fiefdoms and their ideology over reality. To paraphrase the Great Philosopher, they were bitter and chose to cling to their missiles and religion.
All of which is to say that while Gorbachev still wasn’t a hero, he was, at the very least, a necessary and appreciated player in the conclusion of the Cold War drama. It was Reagan and Bush’s victory. But it was made notably less traumatic by Gorbachev’s acceptance of defeat.
Now, we mention ALL of that today because we are beginning to think that we might (MIGHT!) be moving into a similar period in history. We don’t want to sound overly optimistic – or optimistic at all, to be honest. (Because then, how would you recognize us?) But it nevertheless strikes us that we might (MIGHT!) be on the cusp of entering the post-Stalin era of American cultural Sovietism. What we are seeing today – at “diversity, equity, and inclusion”-obsessed universities, at sustainability-obsessed asset management firms, at local school boards around the country, and, of course at some of the nation’s biggest businesses – is beyond insane. And it all gets further beyond insane every minute.
We don’t think, for a second, that we’ve hit “peak woke,” but we do think that we’ve hit a point where most Americans are now aware of at least some of what’s going on. They’ve ALWAYS disapproved of it. But now they know for certain that their disapproval is both justified and appropriate. What we need now is for someone whom the cultural Left admires to join the rest of us in the real world. We need someone with cultural authority to acknowledge that this stuff is indeed beyond insane and, more to the point, is damaging – to kids, to schools, to parents, to businesses, TO THE COUNTRY.
Or to put it another way, we need a Gorby.
Unfortunately, when we look out at the cultural Left, at the political Left, at the Left as a whole, we don’t see any Gorbachevs. It’s Brezhnevs all the way down.
Here’s hoping that something – and someone – better comes along.