The dust is settling on the legislative session in Utah while the national conversation, on a wide range of issues, continues to careen about in Washington. This is a good time to assess what is actually being accomplished by our elected officials and what remains to be done to serve the citizens — locally and nationally. In our public dialogue, debate and legislative action we should consider the consequences, demand transparency and measure results against the metrics of Pyrrhic victories and Potemkin villages. These long ago legends are filled with lessons for today.
A Pyrrhic victory is a win that causes such significant losses on the victorious side that it actually should be considered a defeat. The expression alludes to King Pyrrhus, who achieved a stunning victory over the Romans in 279 B.C. but lost all of his best officers and many of his troops in the process. After the battle, King Pyrrhus declared, “Another such victory and we are lost.”
Far too many across the political spectrum are pursuing Pyrrhic victories for their chosen cause or ideological position while leaving a wake of division and destruction behind them. Empowering principles and enlightened public policy need not be sacrificed for the sake of Pyrrhic victories.
Another challenge relates to Potemkin villages. A Potemkin village refers to the artificial facades used in order to have people believe we are something we are not or create an image incongruent with reality. It comes from an 18th century Russian legend where a local governor wanted to impress Catherine the Great. The governor went so far as to assemble facades of impressive shops, homes and businesses to create the image of a thriving community and robust economy.
There are many living in individual or organizational Potemkin villages of their own making.
The pursuit of Pyrrhic victories and the construction of mental or institutional Potemkin villages prevent us from having meaningful conversations and serious discussions on the challenging issues we face in America.
On issues from immigration, school safety, tariffs and gun control to gasoline tax increases, steel tariffs and education funding, there are strident, loud and angry voices shouting and petitioning from opposite ends of the spectrum. Politicians, operatives, lobbyist and special interest groups chart courses that ensure any victory will be purely pyrrhic or have constructed arguments that are all façade, having no substance and ignoring reality.
Significant and lasting solutions are most likely to be achieved through policies that emerge from broad input, careful deliberation and thoughtful discussion. This rarely happens within your Facebook feed or Twitter account. Virtual Pyrrhic victories from Twitter-battles and the outward appearance of the Potemkin villages from Facebook posts are a daily reality online.
Some prognosticators and pundits have made a fortune fighting pyrrhically while presenting their own Potemkin version of reality. It is critical for citizens to discern how this plays out on cable news, talk radio and other media formats.11 comments on this story
Changing our public discourse to avoid Pyrrhic victories and Potemkin villages begins when we get comfortable being uncomfortable in our debate of critical issues. We make progress when we are willing to demonstrate the kind of courage it takes to admit we are wrong or consider that those we disagree with could be right or, at minimum, have the right to believe they are right.
The Pyrrhic and the Potemkin can be replaced by mutual respect and elevated dialogue grounded in genuine concern for the well-being of others and the betterment of our communities. Positive, uniting victories along with real, substantive solutions shouldn’t be the stuff of myth or legend — they should be how we function as a state and nation.