IF there were ever a piece of theater designed to muddy the waters, it was Zelensky’s speech before the US Congress on 21 December 2022. Flying Zelensky from the Ukraine to Washington to give a speech before Congress was the brainchild of Biden’s political advisors as well as the State Department, a few military brass and almost every elected Democrat.
The American Left LOVED his speech. Television cameras panned politicians clapping and cheering for Zelensky; Pelosi grossly planted a wrinkle-lipped kiss on his cheek. Forbes described the speech as a “masterclass in crisis communications.” The New York Times said it was “impassioned.” The Washington Post went so far as to write that Zelensky’s speech “mirrored that of another wartime leader, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in December 1941.”
Wow. Impressive kudos. Zelensky captured the hearts of media elitists.
But what about the rest of us? Did ordinary Americans find his words so Churchillian that they wanted to spend more on this war? Did Zelensky’s speech uplift Americans as Churchill’s speech once inspired the English? Did it inspire you? Give you hope that this war would end?
In a way it doesn’t matter. His speech was all theater, no reality. It was, as they say, pure “optics.”
It is tragically easy to enthrall true-believers on the cultural/political Left because they are pre-programmed to believe Zelensky’s act. For years, Biden, the media and his PR phalanx have been neck-deep in the neo-liberal silo, detached from war-realities, and quite unable to comprehend the degree to which they are ideologically estranged from ordinary Americans.
They are not crawling out of that silo … in large part because they don’t want to.
Zelensky wore a an ugly sweatshirt to address the US Congress — conservative television personality Tucker Carlson quipped that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looked more like a “strip club manager” than a head of state: I disagree because Zelensky, to my eyes, had an uncanny likeness to Stepen Bandera, the Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi leader during WII responsible for the assassination of the Polish Prime Minister and, more importantly, the brutal massacres of hundreds of thousands of Poles and Jews. Like Zelensky, Bandera was “undersized.” Too, Bandera was an effective CIA-directed propagandist. His end was foreseeable — Russian intelligence officers poisoned him in 1959, two decades before Zelensky’s birth.
Although this phrase is overused, Zelensky seems like a “cut-out” Ukrainian president — he’s either not real or not a real leader, in other words. Before he became president, Zelensky pretended to be president on a Ukrainian television series called “Servant of the People.” He owned the company that produced this show — Kvartal 95 — and aired it for four years, between 2015 and 2019.
Think about this: Zelensky announced his real candidacy for the President of the Ukraine while playing the role of the Ukrainian president on a television sit-com produced by a company he owned.
For some, it’s a razor thin line between fantasy and reality …
Being a political actor is not the same as acting the part of politician. The difference isn’t subtle, though Zelensky and the Eurocrats are confused. Let me spell it out: a political actor is REAL; an actor who plays the part of a politician is MAKE-BELIEVE. This wouldn’t be difficult to understand if these two identities did not conflate in one Zelensky.
To the degree that politics is about “managing optics,” a actor is more effective than a reality-based politician. So far, Zelensky has held up well. He’s winning the propaganda war. But when optics contest reality, in this case, when pretending the war in the Ukraine is going well when it’s been lost, even great acting falls flat. At these times, another sort of leader rises to the top, one grounded in reality.
Zelensky comes off as a man playing a role that’s becoming too big for him. All the Congress-clapping and Pelosi-kissing cannot disguise the fact that he’s an actor who can only perform the one role he somehow landed. As that role expands and morphs, and as the spectre of reality grow clearer, Zelensky’s claim to be President seems less and less believable. His presidency was never completely real anyway; there was always an element of pretend about him. So, though the Ukrainian people have been subjected to a decade of intense propaganda and brainwashing, they’re awakening to the reality of their circumstances and the contra-factual nature of what they’ve been told. This doesn’t bode well for Zelensky.
Or, his military conscripts.
Ukrainian lives aren’t played on the stage of a sit-com but in the deep sludge and frigid trenches of Bakhmut. And for what? What do they expect to get out of this war … in reality, not optics, that is?
Propaganda only works when the price of believing is cheap. Propaganda does NOT work when Ukrainian sons have died without their bodies returned, pipes have frozen in unheated houses, stores have emptied, food has become scarce as nights are spent in damp, dark, underground shelters. When reality can no longer be hidden, propaganda stops working. There’s a delay, of course, because people don’t like to change their minds or admit they’ve been duped, but eventually, reality catches them.
That’s what happening. No amount of “messaging” can overcome the horrible reality of what’s happening in the Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian young men have been sent into the “meat grinders” of Bakhmut and other unpronounceable places … for nothing. The war has already been lost. Russia is only mopping up. This is reality.
Make-believe energizes those who can’t face reality. This applies to the unrealistic Eurocrats and Americans who are responsible for dragging out this war. They still believe, in their deluded minds, that they’re winning, or can win. Zelensky’s performance before the Congress will delay their reckoning, unfortunately. But slowly, it will dawn on them that the economic suffering inflicted on their own people as well as physical, cultural and economic suffering inflicted on people who live in the Ukraine is not worth the illusion they are so desperate to maintain.
Make-believe is costly. When the credibility of these neo-liberals is gone, even the best propaganda and most intense censorship cannot save them. Winners never lie. They don’t have to. Real evidence vindicates them. Losers, on the other hand, tend to rationalize and obfuscate. That’s what Zelensky’s speech was about.
Zelensky is losing as well as a loser, for losers lie. They act. They live in a surreal world. When reality infringes on their stage sets, they either change the way they’re thinking or double down on self-deception. When losers cannot deal with reality, they often doubly-believe their own lies. I don’t know if Zelensky believes the crap that came out of his mouth in front of Congress. Maybe he does … maybe not. It’s still a lie whether he believes it or not.
As lies intersect real times and places, the gap between elitists and ordinary people expands. Elitists never suffer the consequences of their lies … until it’s too late. Only ordinary people suffer. I find it amazing that anyone can think that little Zelensky is a hero for he’ll be on a plane for his mansion in Miami in a flash when it finally becomes clear to him that he cannot maintain the illusion of winning any longer.
There “really” are some things money can’t buy though Biden and Zelensky don’t grok this yet. For one, victory in the Ukraine cannot be bought (though defeat can be delayed or denied.) The US doesn’t have the ability to provide the number of weapons that the Ukraine cavalierly burns through; if NATO and the US give Ukraine the weapons they are demanding they’ll dilute their own strength in other parts of the world, namely China. So, as always, to save itself, the US will be providing Zelensky with great optics, not substance.
Poor Zelensky got nothing out of his trip except applause. I hope he enjoyed his moment of glory. Now, it’s ended. He begged for military stuff and got, as far as I can tell, a patriot missile and some lesser stuff. Though neo-liberals wanted to give him more stuff, reality struck them down. Decades of de-industrialization left the United States and Europe without a productive base needed to create new weapons at a fast clip. Propaganda won’t help this reality. Either those weapons are made … or not. Either they work … or not.
War forces reality upon those who trudge in the sludge of propaganda. It forces real choices in real time.