In 1787, four years after Russia had annexed Crimea for the first time (the second would occur 231 years later), Catherine the Great set off on a six-month trip to see her new acquisition. She had appointed Prince Grigory Potemkin governor-general of the new lands and instructed him to rebuild the region, which had suffered through years of warfare.
Anxious to please his empress and lover, Potemkin reportedly constructed mobile villages along the Dnieper River and peopled them with soldiers dressed as happy peasants who waved to the royal barge sailing by. The buildings, however, were only cardboard facades built to hide Crimea’s sorry reality. The phrase “Potemkin Village” has subsequently come to mean “a pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition.”
I thought of this as I read The Wall Street Journal’s recent editorial excoriating Donald Trump’s candidacy, demanding that he “change his act” by Labor Day. The Journal’s editorial page is reliably conservative, and its denunciation of Trump reflects the growing fear that his candidacy will imperil Republican candidates across the country. And so it advised him to adopt a façade to disguise the man American voters increasingly detest.
This is kind of refreshing. Instead of the usual charade of presenting the candidate as a “real person,” Trump is being told to fake it, to become a Potemkin candidate. The only problem is that he already is one – a pretentious façade masking a shabby condition – and people are finally seeing through it.