Lawyers for the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, have announced that they will not defend him in his impeachment trial in the state Senate because the proceedings there are fundamentally unfair to their client. Their statement included this sentence:
"We cannot and will not degrade our client, ourselves, our oaths and our profession, as well as the office of the governor, by participating in a Potemkin-like lynching proceeding, thus making it appear that the governor is represented by competent counsel when in fact he is not."
Potemkin-like lynching is, of course, the interesting construction.
When Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, toured Ukraine and the Crimea in the late 18th century, Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, one of a number of her favorites, is said to have constructed mock villages — essentially theatrical sets — to impress the empress with the prosperity and good order of her realm. This has given rise to the term Potemkin village, meaning a façade or stage set — a fraud — constructed to conceal an embarrassing or unpleasant reality.
One is left a little puzzled at the lawyers' intending meaning, since lynching is precisely the sort of ugly fact that a Potemkin construction would be erected to conceal. A "Potemkin-like lynching" would be not a real lynching but a cosmetically enhanced mock lynching?
Perhaps Messrs. Sam and Sam Adam Jr. would have been better advised to focus on jurisprudence and avoid literary-historical flourishes.