Biden and the Greengrocer

February 1, 2021 Updated: February 2, 2021


One of the strangest aspects of America’s new cup o’ Joe is the idea that the installation of Bidenharris in the White House represents a “return of normality” in the metabolism of the nation’s political affairs.

You see this meme—a less charitable person might call it a “canard”—being belched up everywhere from The Swamp.

No memo went out. The instruction was silently communicated in some mysterious way, akin to the signals that direct the flight of flocks of birds.

Masses of them pivot and strike out in the same direction. No order was given, but one was certainly obeyed.

So it is with the response to Bidenharris.

It’s taken for granted on the TV shows and in the chatter of respectable pundits. Opinion journals of the right-left, as well as the left, proclaim it in tones of buttoned-down seriousness and relief.

One organ of the respectable right assures its readers that the day-to-day activities of Bidenharris is “a professional operation going about its business, not the reality-television show we’ve been privy to for the last four years.”

If you look closely, you can see the words “Thank God for that!” floating up off the page.

Hark: The new administration’s “announced nominees for Cabinet positions and selections for White House staff are notable largely for their experience and competence.”

I’d like to you say that last bit aloud and then conjure the image of John Kerry, Janet “$800K” Yellen, Xavier Becerra, Pete Buttigieg, and Marcia Fudge. Can you do it without giggling? “Experience and competence” forsooth!

And there’s more. “Biden’s actions represent a natural harnessing of the authority of the presidency,” we read. The ancient one “is not promising to shake up Washington; he’s explicitly promising he will calm it down.”

Right. “Calm it down.” That’s why there’s that hastily erected 12-foot wall, topped with razor wire, surrounding the Capitol.

Any bets on whether that’s made a permanent feature of what Nancy Pelosi called “the People’s House.” (No, not you, silly: she meant her kind of people.)

And how about those thousands of armed troops in the nation’s capital?

The Swamp tells us they’re there to protect against “domestic terrorism” and “insurrection.”

Thus, we see The Washington Post, megaphone of the richest man in the world, warning that “ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority … could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”

That was in a story headlined “The U.S. is finally catching up to the domestic terrorism threat.”

Whence the threat?

Why, from Donald Trump, of course.

Don’t you remember? He “incited” “insurrection,” “sedition,” and “violence” on Jan. 6 when he held a rally in Washington and urged his followers to make their way “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol to “make their voices heard.”

That was the pretext for the latest Washington entertainment, “The Impeachment of Donald Trump, Episode II” of the mini-series.

It’s an open question whether the media, or the Democrats in general, will be able to do without the faux-demon of Donald Trump.

“Si Dieu n’existait pas,” said Voltaire, “il faudrait l’inventer.” “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

A similar dynamic is at work with respect to the left’s boogymen. Donald Trump is the Emmanuel Goldstein (the designated principal enemy of the totalitarian state Oceania in “1984”) of the movement. But minor public enemies are legion.

Anyone harboring “Trumpist” inclinations is suspect, hence the widespread calls for “deprogramming” his supporters, who are routinely said to be “marching toward sedition.”

Is that a “return to normality”? Do you feel calmer?

Or how about that chap who is being prosecuted by the DOJ for felony “election interference”? His tort? Recommending on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election that people vote for Hillary Clinton by text.

Is that normal? Will it “calm things down”? Or is it, as Andrew McCarthy said, “ridiculous” and scary to boot?


This is where Václav Havel’s greengrocer comes in. In “The Power of the Powerless,” a famous essay about the day-to-day operation of totalitarianism from the late 1970s, Havel talks about an ordinary greengrocer who obediently agrees to display a placard with the slogan “Workers of the World, Unite!” in his shop window.

He does this without much thought. What if the powers that be had asked him to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient”? Then, says Havel, “embarrassed and ashamed,” he would have objected.

“To overcome this complication,” Havel explains, “his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction.”

“It must allow the greengrocer to say, ‘What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?’”

You see how it works: “The sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.”

Bidenharris turns Washington into an armed camp. He populates his administration with ideological apparatchiks and affirmative-action nonentities and repeats the word “unity.”

Bidenharris also starts prosecuting political opponents. He governs by diktat, issuing more executive orders in a week than other administrations had done in a year. With the stroke of a pen, he shutters the Keystone XL pipeline and put tens of thousands of people out of work.

He also utters the word “unity” and proclaimed “tolerance” in his inaugural address, the “best” inaugural address that squeaky Chris Wallace had heard in his entire life. Normal?

Havel warned about what happens to recalcitrant greengrocers who don’t get with the program. All of a sudden, “he will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. … His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him.”

And here’s the rub. “Most of those who apply these sanctions … will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same conditions that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans.”

“Conditions.” That’s a synonym for the swampy “normality” that Bidenharris is returning us to and that we are supposed to celebrate.

The people carrying out this restitution think that if they censor something, then it no longer exists.

They think that if they call ordinary citizens “domestic terrorists,” they can win an ideological battle.

There are somewhere between 74 million and 75 million people who are on the cusp of proving them wrong.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Who Rules? Sovereignty, Nationalism, and the Fate of Freedom in the 21st Century.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.