Home > Uncategorized > President Trump’s Ignoring of Arts: Another Signal of Anti-Intellectualism Run Amok

President Trump’s Ignoring of Arts: Another Signal of Anti-Intellectualism Run Amok

December 27, 2017

Yesterday I wrote a post lamenting President Trump’s failure to celebrate the Nobel prize winners, vowing it as a signal to reinforce his antipathy toward science in particular and his intent to appeal to the anti-intellectualism in out country. No sooner had I written the post than I read an op ed article by playwright Sarah Ruhl in yesterday’s NYTimes reporting that Mr. Trump was not going to attend the Kennedy Center’s annual tribute to artists selected for Medals of Honor. Why?

The president’s team claimed that he did not attend so that the artists could celebrate in peace rather than having a political distraction. But the president votes, as we all do, with his feet.

As Ms. Ruhl notes, this is a peculiar line of reasoning given that many of the recipients have not seen eye-to-eye with the Presidents who typically attend the event and offer comments on the honorees. Mr. Ruhl offered two examples of magnanimity that came from GOP Presidents who awarded medals to recipients who opposed their political positions– Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In both cases, the GOP Presidents used the opportunity to note the unifying power of the arts. In reporting on Mr. Reagan’s participation at the event, Ms. Ruhl wrote:

…in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed “a culture that was as fertile as this new land” and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.

“And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,” he said.

And Mr. Bush was equally magnanimous in giving the award to Barbra Streisand, who persistently criticized his politics. After reading the

After Mr. Bush read her biography, he added,“She’s also been known to speak her mind.” The audience laughed, then applauded. Ms. Streisand later wrote: “President Bush gave me his signature wink and mouthed, ‘We showed ’em.’ I guess in some small way, he and I proved that we could agree to disagree, and, for that weekend, art transcended politics.” The wink and the joke were actually profound — they signaled a functional democracy. 

Ms. Ruhl was saddened to think that Mr. Trump was passing up this ritual celebration of the arts, but saw it, as I do, as further evidence of his anti-intellectualism and an ominous sign for our democracy:

In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values.

It is not only “..a chilling and clear departure from American values“, it is “..a chilling and clear departure from human values“, from the values that enable us to find common ground when we disagree with each other, the values that enable us to live in harmony instead of living in conflict.

In his refusal to honor Nobel scientists Mr. Trump signaled his antipathy toward those seeking the truth in the physical world. In his refusal to honor Kennedy Center artists he signaled his antipathy toward those seeking eternal truths. I hope that his views on the arts and sciences are not adopted by our nation, for if they are, America will no longer be the nation that is a beacon of free thought.

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