Donald Trump’s disdain for “fake news” is legendary as is his love of pageantry. At this very moment, with Covid-19 ravaging the country, Washington under martial law, and Visigoths planning a second takeover of the U.S. Capitol, The Donald is busy working out the details of his departure pageant – Air Force One, red carpet, honor guard, military flyover, 21-gun salute, and a final pass over the White House on his way to Mar a Lago.
Nero fiddled, Donald fidgets.
We know about his creepy interest in Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and military pageants, but his affection for fake art is less well known. Trump Tower, Mar a Lago, and Bedminster are full of it. You’d think the son of a wealthy New York real estate investor, with an Ivy League diploma, who’d spent most of his adult life in Manhattan would have a nodding acquaintance with the real thing, but from the faux-gold chandeliers and fake Renoir in his Trump Tower apartment to the forged Time Magazine covers of himself at Bedminster, The Donald has shown us his love of fakery.
Ever since The Man Who Would Be King and his would-be Queen rode the Trump Tower escalator down to announce his run for the presidency, I’ve wondered why his interest in art was be limited to The Art of the Deal. How could he be so clueless? How is it a New Yorker with an Ivy education and huge family inheritance, have so little interest in art, music, dance, or theater?
The exception of note might be when, during the visit to France, early in his tenure, he goniffed a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and two figurines from the U.S. ambassador’s residence to take home. Alas, they were fakes too. Maybe it was the temptation to take something that wasn’t his or simply the fact that he could do it. I hope the permanent staff at the White House is locking everything down until he slithers off to Mar a Lago on Wednesday?
But, back to the arts; this all came to mind when I reviewed the list of honorees to be celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors this year – Midori, Debbie Allen, Joan Baez, Garth Brooks, and Dick Van Dyke. Odds are he despises Baez, barely knows Brooks is country, remembers Van Dyke from black and white TV, and hasn’t a clue who Allen or Midori are.
In his four years in DC, he’s never attended the Kennedy Center event although it’s honored distinguished Americans, as diverse as Michael Tilson Thomas, Cher, Phillip Glass, Linda Ronstadt, Norman Lear, and Lin-Manuel Miranda during his term. Add to it that the Trumps hosted only three state dinners in four years and only one, the French President and his wife, included entertainment other than the Marine Corps Band.
Contrast that with memories of the Kennedy’s hosting Pablo Casals, the American Ballet Theater dancers and Metropolitan Opera stars at the White House, a tradition that was carried forward by LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the Bushes with jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and Duke Ellington, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, opera diva Leontyne Price and country artists Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Arts in the White House expanded greatly under the Obamas with a mix of entertainers ranging from Stevie Wonder to Misty Copeland, James Taylor, Al Green, Common, and that iconic preview of the Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
It’s easy to be critical of Donald Trump. He’s a case of arrested development. Whether that’s nature or nurture I can’t say, but his education, advantages and innate curiosity should have exposed him to the broadening experience that art provides.
“The function of art, Aristotle told us, is catharsis. You go to the theater, you listen to a symphony, you look at a painting, you watch a ballet. You laugh. You cry. You feel pity, fear. You see in others’ lives a reflection of your own. And, the catharsis comes: a cleansing, a clarity, a feeling of relief and understanding that you carry with you out of the theater or concert hall. Art, music, drama—here is a point worth recalling in a pandemic—are instruments of psychic and social health.” (Jason Farago, New York Times, Sunday, January 17, 2021)
This print, called The Republican Club, by Andy Thomas of Carthage, Missouri was recommended to Mr. Trump by Rep. Darrell Issa of California for its flattering portrayal of the president. Like other portraits of himself (purchased with Trump Foundation funds) it will hang prominently in the White House—until Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 12:01pm.
Footnote: America’s investment in the arts is insignificant when compared with other developed countries. In 2000, Germany spent 1.79% of all final government expenditures on the arts, translating to $8 per person—more than 14 times greater than per capita U.S. spending. (www.arts.gov)