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A Broadening Divide

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Editorial
• Created: September 6, 2017

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On August 19th, Donald and Melania Trump announced that they would not be attending this year’s Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony, which will celebrate Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie, LL Cool J, Norman Lear, and Carmen Lavallade. 

Skipping out on events at which the First Family traditionally appear has become something of a tradition, itself – earlier this year Trump (and members of his administration) decided not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – but this recent decision underscores some very serious “arts related” disconnect between this President and cultural institutions. 

The reason for the Trumps avoiding this year’s Kennedy Center event, scheduled for December 3rd, was explained by the following White House statement: “The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.” 

Why, you might wonder, would the Trumps’ presence at the ceremony create “any political distraction” when the attendance of so many prior Commander in Chiefs seemingly did not? The answer may have something to do with the explanations given by a couple of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees regarding their own decisions to not attend the traditional pre-ceremony reception at the White House. 

Norman Lear explained that he would decline the ceremony because Trump, “has chosen to neglect totally the arts and humanities – deliberately defund them – and that doesn’t rest pleasantly with me.” If you’ve been following the news (or reading this Editorial column), you already know what Lear is referring to. Trump’s proposed budget – including cuts to the NEA and NEH – would almost certainly have a devastating effect on smaller music and arts organizations throughout the country. 

The widening divide between advocates for the arts and this administration was further illustrated one day prior to the President’s announcement regarding the Kennedy Center Honors (and following controversial remarks Trump made after the violent events at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia), when all 17 members of The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities signed a resignation letter, explaining, “Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both.” 

I feel compelled to once again make plain that I’m simply keeping track of the events of the day that may have serious (and negative) mpacts on the world of MI and not proselytizing any one party or ideology. 

I’ll do so again, now: 

Whatever your personal politics, when the President of the U.S. and the institutions celebrating and defending arts are in open conflict, it behooves all of us to pay close attention and be on alert. 

It’s not as if Trump has a track record that suggest he “dislikes” arts and culture – he’s had guest spots in a number of movies, hosted “Celebrity Apprentice,” claims to be an avid fan of “Citizen Kane,” and the man clearly still watches a lot of television (morning news-chat programs, anyway) – so, with any luck, the gap between the presidency and arts advocacy can ultimately disappear, or at least diminish. It’ll be bad news for all of us if it does not. 

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