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Journal of the Plague Year, Part 10

The Country Mouse

The City Mouse, now retired, was once an American Studies professor back in the day when American Studies was yet a new pedagogical venture. She has lived in one of Connecticut’s major cities, Stamford, now finds herself within hailing distance of a second, Hartford, the state’s Capital City, and talks in full sentences.

She still considers herself a John F. Kennedy Democrat and draws a sharp, categorical distinction between Kennedy liberalism and postmodern progressivism.

“President Kennedy,” she wrote to me some time ago, “has been buried twice: once in 1963 following his assassination, and more recently following the continuing upsurge of postmodern progressivism, to which I am temperamentally opposed.

“Not,” she added, “that anyone in my ideologically battered party would take my temperament into account when making political judgments.

“Old-goat Democrats, such as Biden, Pelosi and others, most of whom have now brashly and publicly turned a new postmodern, progressive leaf, have thrown their lot in with new-age progressives who are not – repeat not – liberals. I know that history has a way of rolling on, usually over the graves of consequential men and women such as Kennedy and Governor of Connecticut Ella Grasso, but I’m still alive and do not expect to be rolled over anytime soon, if it may please God.”

The Country Mouse is a journalist now retired – “Thanks be to God!” he says, with an unmistakable harrumph! – “from a profession that has lost its way.”

“In what sense,” I asked him, “has journalism lost its way?”

“The media’s critical instincts were rightly aroused by an antagonistic former President Donald Trump. Following a reasonable 100 day honeymoon with a new President, Joe Biden, it has, once again, defanged itself.

“Especially here in Connecticut, the media has been much too uncritical of the reigning power, and that power, a rarely closely questioned Democrat hegemony, has been operating in the state unobstructed for nearly half a century. Such a media is dangerously unwoke, to use a phrase we hear often falling from the lips of progressives.”

It might be useful, I though, to challenge him on this point. “Both you and the City Mouse appear to have in common an almost visceral distaste for progressives.”

“You need a governing adjective there,” he responded.  “’Postmodern progressives’ might do. It may be argued that former President John Kennedy bore the marks of progressivism, as did former Governors of Connecticut Ella Grasso and Abe Ribicoff. But it would be more accurate to call both of them classical liberals firmly attached to the great liberal chain of being that joined democratic politics to famous and infamous small “r” republicans  -- ardent defenders of liberty such as, to pick only one son of liberty, Samuel Adams, the most persuasive journalist of his day. Postmodern progressivism breaks the chain. It is not concerned with the liberty of the individual, secured here in the United States by both statutory and constitutional law, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears of the founders of our republic.  In the feverish, reductionist,  postmodern imagination, the liberty of the individual has given way to equity – a quasi-Marxist, highly political, leveling doctrine that seeks to make equal round pegs and square holes. How often in the past three decades have you heard postmodern progressives in Connecticut quoting liberally from any of the founders of the American Republic? Kennedy, Grasso and Ribicoff did it all the time.”

“What,” I asked, “is the distinguishing characteristic of the postmodern progressive here in Connecticut and the northeast?”

“A thirst for political power unattached to the public good.”

“Can you provide an example?”

“I hardly know where to end. The General Assembly -- for those untaught by progressive, cancel culture pedagogues in Connecticut, the second of the state’s three co-equal branches of government – has just decided, once again, to extend Governor Ned Lamont’s plenary powers until mid-July. The ‘greatest deliberative body in Connecticut’ has put itself into a deep freeze for more than a year.

“Investing the chief executive of the state with plenary powers -- that is to say, with legislative and judicial powers – cannot, under any color of reason, be said to have improved the public good. The continuing investment of plenary powers upon the governor by a cowardly – there is no other word for it – legislature that refuses to exercise its own constitutional responsibilities, is a dereliction of constitutional obligations that every governor in the state preceding ‘King Ned would have had no problem denouncing. And any non-progressive in Connecticut’s General Assembly easily might call upon any of the founders of our Constitutional Republic for moral support.

“Here is Samuel Adams on patriotic liberty: ‘If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; may your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!’

A bit severe, you think. Here is Jefferson: ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’

“Here is Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense: ‘When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.’

“And let us not forget that late 19th century apostle of liberty, Abe Lincoln: ‘The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially if the sheep was a black one.’ That is a direct reference to the oppression of African Americans in the United States.

“But the hard-won liberty we here enjoy, the rich deposit of liberty from our ancestors, rarely taught in woke universities, must be pronounced dead when sleepy legislative and judicial branches nod at the plenary, pre-revolutionary powers of dominant chief executives across the country. This is not progress. It is not even progressive. It is a timid, undemocratic retreat to pre-revolutionary days when men and women were in the habit of confusing an efficient monarchy with responsible small “r” republican liberty. 

“More than a year ago, we gave plenary, life and death powers to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, and he used those powers to destroy life – and liberty. We gave plenary powers to ‘King Ned’ of Connecticut, and he used his powers to kill the liberty of individuals in the state to shape their own futures through representative governing institutions.”

“I can hear the bugles blowing and the flags flapping in your words," I said, "but what do you say to those who argue that extraordinary measures are necessary in times such as ours.”

Here the Country Mouse erupted with one of his Johnsonian harrumphs, "Exceptional measures should not invalidate our republican rule. Much has been done by professional politicians to erode liberty under cover of necessity. Wolves plead necessity all the time. There is no end to necessity. I say -- a false necessity is the last refuge of scoundrels. Give me back my republic. Do it now!”

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