The President Kije Suite

© 2011 by

Like life imitating art, we have a president who never really existed. There is a precedent, however.

Lieutenant Kijé is the protagonist of an anecdote going back to the time of Emperor Paul I of Russia and the plot is a satire on bureaucracy (see Wikipedia). As goes the story, during the time of Russia’s Paul I (1754-1801), a clerk miswrites an order promoting several third lieutenants to second lieutenants (podporuchiki) so that the end of the word podporuchiki is separated and combined with the following particle zh (here, 'and') so that it looks as if there is a podporuchik Kizh (Second Lieutenant Kizh). The Emperor Paul decides to promote the nonexistent Kizh to first lieutenant; he quickly rises through the ranks to staff captain and full captain, and when he is promoted to colonel the emperor commands that Kizh appear before him. Of course no Kizh can be found; the military bureaucrats go through the paper trail and discover the original mistake, but they decide to tell the emperor that Kizh has disappeared. "What a pity," the emperor says, "he was a good officer."

The story was given musical life by the composer Sergei Prokofiev for the 1934 Soviet film Lieutenant Kijé. Many readers will have heard this music without realizing its name or source. The movement Troika is very familiar in Western culture, often used as a soundtrack for movie winter scenes

We contemporary Westerners are now confronted by President Barak Kije. Many charge he has no documentable background that can survive even the lightest investigation. His birth, home life, education, professional degrees, associations, politics, qualifications – even photographs – are all missing. Yet, like the fictitious Lt Kije, he has been successively and automatically promoted to ever higher rank based upon the actions of those who created him seemingly from whole cloth. Something to ponder when listening to yet another speech about how he will solve our nation’s problems. Perhaps his promoters will write a suite about him.

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