Thursday Reads: Dumpster Fire Debate Aftermath

Central Avenue, by Philip Guston

Good Morning!!

The paintings and drawings in this post are by Philip Guston, a painter who shocked the art world in the late 1960s by abandoning his abstract expressionism and turning to cartoonish representations of KKK-like figures that to him reflected the culture of America under Richard Nixon. These works also reflected his childhood memories of scenes of the Klan marching openly in Los Angeles, where his Jewish family lived.

Four major museums have decided to call off a retrospective of Guston’s work for fear of negative reactions to the racial justice content of the paintings. From The New York Times:

In an open letter published Wednesday in The Brooklyn Rail, nearly 100 artists, curators, dealers and writers forcefully condemned the decision last week by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and three other major museums to pull the plug on the largest retrospective in 15 years of one of America’s most influential postwar painters.

The show, after years of preparation, will be delayed until 2024. The stated reason is to let the institutions rethink their presentation of Guston’s later figurative paintings, which feature men in hoods reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan members, and which, a National Gallery spokesperson said, risked being “misinterpreted” today.

Philip Guston – Dawn, 1970 (oil on canvas)

In the open letter, the artists, “shocked and disappointed,” accuse the museums — the National Gallery, Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — both of betraying Guston’s art and of patronizing the public they are supposed to serve.

The postponement, they write, is an admission of the museums’ “longstanding failure to have educated, integrated, and prepared themselves to meet the challenge of the renewed pressure for racial justice that has developed over the past five years.” They demand that the Guston exhibition take place as scheduled, and that the museums “do the necessary work to present this art in all its depth and complexity.”

Surely these paintings are as relevant in the Trump years as they were in Nixon’s America. Postponing the exhibition until 2024 guarantees that public discussions of their import won’t happen until after Trump’s second term if he is reelected. This reminds me of the many efforts to ban Mark Twain’s profoundly anti-racist novel Huckleberry Finn because of Twain’s use of the N-word.

Read more at Art News: Controversial Philip Guston Show Postponement Met with Shock and Anger from Art Community. See also this statement (and more art works) from Guston’s daughter Musa Mayor: Philip Guston: The Danger is in Looking Away.

Now on to today’s news. Trump’s dumpster fire of a debate performance on Tuesday night is still drawing reactions.

The New York Times Editorial Board: A Debate That Can’t Be Ignored. Americans need to face the man who is their president.

President Trump’s was a national disgrace. His refusal to condemn white supremacists, or to pledge that he will accept the results of the election, betrayed the people who entrusted him with the highest office in the land. Every American has a responsibility to look and listen and take the full measure of the man. Ignorance can no longer be a tenable excuse. Conservatives in pursuit of long-cherished policy goals can no longer avoid the reality that Mr. Trump is vandalizing the principles and integrity of our democracy.

Philip Guston The Line, 1978

It’s a tired frame, but consider how Americans would judge a foreign election where the incumbent president scorned the democratic process as a fraud and called on an armed, violent, white supremacist group to “stand by” to engage with his political rivals.

The debate was excruciating to watch for anyone who loves this country, because of the mirror it held up to the United States in 2020: a nation unmoored from whatever was left of its civil political traditions, awash in conspiratorial disinformation, incapable of agreeing on what is true and what are lies, paralyzed by the horror of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and beholden to a political system that doesn’t reflect the majority of the country.

The debate featured one politician trying his best to do his job, trying to bring some normalcy to America’s battered public square, and one politician who seemed incapable of self-control — petulant, self-centered, rageful.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Adam Serwer at The Atlantic: The Most Illuminating Moment of the Debate. Donald Trump sees everything—even his own children—as a reflection of himself.

Shortly after Donald and Ivana Trump’s son was born, however, the future president had an unusual concern for a parent: What if this kid grows up and embarasses me?

“What should we name him?” Donald asked, according to Ivana’s memoir, Raising Trump. When Ivana suggested Donald Jr., the real-estate heir responded, “What if he is a loser?”

That anecdote helps explain one of the more memorable exchanges in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as well as Trump’s approach to governance. The president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, sought to criticize Trump’s remarks about U.S. service members being “losers,” as first reported by The Atlantic. In doing so, Biden brought up his late son, Beau, who died of a brain tumor after earning a Bronze Star in the Army National Guard.

Philip Guston, Drawing for Conspirators, 1930

“My son was in Iraq and spent a year there,” Biden said to Trump, raising his voice. “He got the Bronze Star. He got a medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”

In an attempt to neutralize the attack, Trump changed the subject—to Biden’s other son, Hunter. “Hunter got thrown out of the military; he was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” he spat out.

To a person who feared sharing his name with his son at the moment of his birth, because the child might turn out to be a “loser,” that attack must have seemed devastating. But normal parents don’t stop loving their children because they do bad things. They love them anyway. That’s what being a parent is.

Biden responded by reaffirming his love for his surviving son. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden responded. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” [….]

More than any other moment of the debate, Trump’s response to Biden’s invocation of his dead son—attempting to make him ashamed of his surviving one—threw the dispositions of the two men into sharp relief. I wondered how Hunter must have felt to see his father speak of his pride in his brother, only for his own name to be brandished as a weapon to inflict shame on his father. And I thought about Biden’s response, which was to reaffirm his pride in Hunter, the troubled son living in the indelible shadow of a departed war hero. In the midst of being attacked by a president trying to wield his own family against him, Biden’s instinct was to reassure Hunter that he is also loved, that nothing could make his father see him as a loser.

Read more at The Atlantic.

At The Washington Post, Eric Garcia wrote about his own struggle with addiction and how Trump’s words will affect other recovering people: Trump’s attack on Hunter Biden will only increase the stigma of addiction.

As saccharine as it sounds, the president of the United States is also the president of screw-ups, addicts and hopefuls like me and Hunter Biden. But Trump’s comments made clear that he believes that an addict’s actions can be used against our families to attack their character.

Philip Guston – Courtroom, 1970 (oil on canvas)

That will make us less willing to talk about our problems and get the help we need. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says explicitly that stigma can make people with substance abuse disorders less willing to seek treatment. And that makes sense. If your addiction is going to be used against you, why try to get better?

Hunter Biden’s problems with alcohol, drugs and women have been well-documented. (News reports show that, contrary to what Trump said Tuesday, Hunter was not dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve when he tested positive for cocaine in 2014.) Those demons were enough of an issue that when the former vice president began running last year, the New Yorker published a piece asking whether they would “jeopardize his father’s campaign.” That story ran a few days before I finally hit bottom myself.

I don’t know Hunter Biden, but I do know that worrying that your own actions could hurt the people you love is one of the things that tears an addict up inside.

I hope you’ll read the rest.

The debate also raised fears about Trump stealing the election, by suppressing votes, encouraging white supremacist violence, and using the courts.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Crew of Far-Right Vigilante Poll Watchers Is Coming.

The truck-revving, banner-waving, loudspeaker-blaring pro-Trump rally took place, conveniently, on Sept. 19, the first Saturday of early voting in the swing state of Virginia, in a parking lot where voters in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County were lined up to cast their ballots. Some Trump supporters drove circles around the voters while others—many without face masks—mingled with the line, chanting and waving flags.

“We had a couple poll observers there that had to actually escort voters in because we saw people that would get to the edge of the parking lot, and see this giant group of Trumpers yelling and screaming,” Jack Kiraly, executive director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, told The Daily Beast, adding that the scene reminded him of the volunteers who escort people past anti-abortion protesters outside women’s health clinics.

Philip Guston, 1930 or 31

So during Tuesday night’s remarkably unhinged presidential debate, when President Donald Trump urged his supporters to take unsanctioned actions at polling places, Kiraly was reminded of what Fairfax County voters had witnessed earlier this month.

During the debate, Trump appeared to tell the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys to “stand by” and urged fans to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon Trump has crafted into a cornerstone of his political identity. For close observers of the far right, as well as officials like Kiraly, the remarks amounted to the latest warning that an embattled president might use his supporters to impede fair elections, or to cast the results of those elections in doubt.

If the prospect of election-related violence was already looming over the first presidential contest since Trump effectively welcomed the paramilitary far-right into the Republican Party, the debate made the alarm bells ring even louder.

David Sanger at The New York Times: Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself.

President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected….

Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have imagined. All Mr. Putin has to do now is amplify the president’s message, which he has already begun to do….

The president began the debate with a declaration that balloting already underway was “a fraud and a shame” and proof of “a rigged election.”

Philip Guston – By the Window, 1969 (oil on canvas)

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Trump was doing more than simply trying to discredit the mail-in ballots that are being used to ensure voters are not disenfranchised by a pandemic — the same way of voting that five states have used for years with minimal fraud.

He followed it by encouraging his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very carefully,” which seemed to be code words for a campaign of voter intimidation, aimed at those who brave the coronavirus risks of voting in person.

And Mr. Trump’s declaration that the Supreme Court would have to “look at the ballots” and that “we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over” seemed to suggest that he would try to place the election in the hands of a court where he has been rushing to cement a conservative majority with his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

And if he cannot win there, he has already raised the possibility of using the argument of a fraudulent election to throw the decision to the House of Representatives, where he believes he has an edge because every state delegation gets one vote in resolving an election with no clear winner. At least for now, 26 of those delegations have a majority of Republican representatives.

And of course Trump’s final backstop could be to trigger mass violence by his white supremacist supporters.

I’m running out of space, but I’ll post more links in the comment thread. Have a nice Thursday, and please check in with us if you have the time and inclination. We love to hear from you!


Tuesday Reads: Good News and Bad News and Other News

debate

Good Afternoon!!

There’s good news and bad news today. The bad news is that there’s a Republican debate tonight. The good news is this is the last Republican debate before the primaries begin.

Honestly, I don’t know if I can stand to watch another GOP debate. I’ll probably give it a try, but I don’t know how long I’ll last. I’d watch the MSNBC coverage if Rachel Maddow were anchoring it; but for some reason Chris Matthews is doing it again.

It’s been quiet here as it usually is during the holiday season, so maybe we can use this thread to comment on the debate. If for some reason we get really busy, I’ll put up another thread tonight. Please let me know if you plan to watch the debate, and we’ll just play it by ear.

The main debate will begin at 8:30PM on CNN, and it will be live streamed on CNN’s website. There will be a kids table debate at 6PM with only four participants: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Lindsay Graham, and George Pataki.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina on September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane - RTS1TOL

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina on September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane – RTS1TOL

Rand Paul should be at the kid’s table; but for some strange reason CNN is letting him appear on the main stage–perhaps because he whined about it or maybe because CNN likes him, who knows. If you didn’t see it last night, I highly recommend watching Rachel Maddow’s report on the Rand Paul story.

Some stories about what could happen in tonight’s circus/horror show:

MSNBC: Five Storylines to Watch During Tonight’s GOP Debate.

Vox: Republican debate 2015 live stream: time, TV schedule, how to watch online.

CNN: Who will hold the winning hand at Vegas GOP debate? 7 things to watch.

NPR: Tonight’s GOP Debate: Cruz On The Rise As Terrorism Becomes Central Focus.

Ed Kilgore at NY Magazine: Can CNN Get the Cage Match It Wants in GOP Debate?

Here’s another strange story leading up to the debate in Las Vegas tonight. A very wealthy person has purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and he wants to remain anonymous–even to the paper’s employees. Now who could this person be. Someone should ask Sheldon Adelson about it.

Mother Jones reports: Did a Republican Megadonor Just Secretly Buy Nevada’s Biggest Newspaper?

The sale has created a controversy because, while there is no rule requiring a newspaper to disclose its owners, the Journal-Review will be, by far, the largest newspaper in America whose owners are secret. The intrigue is not just journalistic: For a well-heeled person interested in influencing an election, owning the largest paper in the state that in a few short months will hold one of the first nominating events of the primary season (third for Democrats and fourth for Republicans) is a good place to start.

The news broke on Friday, when the paper’s management told employees that the publication, which had been owned by a publicly traded chain of newspapers called New Media Investment Group, had been sold for $140 million. The new owners? An LLC based in Delaware called News + Media Capital Group LLC. The only publicly available information on News + Media Capital Group LLC is that it was founded two months ago in Delaware, and it used a corporate agent that hides any identifying information.

Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., speaks during an interview in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009. Jerome Favre/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., speaks during an interview in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009. Jerome Favre/Bloomberg via Getty Images

WTF?!

TheReview-Journal’s management introduced a man named Michael Schroeder as the manager of News + Media Capital Group LLC. Schroeder has been the publisher of a very small chain of newspapers in Connecticut and declined to tell theReview-Journal who the new bosses were, other than to say they were “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry,” a description that does little to narrow down the field. Another detail that leaked from the paper’s management was that there are multiple owners, at least some of whom are based in Las Vegas. The description is odd, since most individuals who have invested in news organizations previously would be aware that refusing to say who owned the paper would do nothing but stir controversy, especially within the paper’s own staff.

The paper’s management also seemed almost determined to stoke controversy. According to the Huffington Post, a version of the story detailing the paper’s sale went to press with a quote that suggested Schroeder was dismissive of employee concerns about the new ownership.

“They want you to focus on your jobs…don’t worry about who they are,” Schroeder allegedly said at a meeting with employees. But the quote was pulled, as were other critical comments, before a new version of the article was printed.

I guess we’ll find out who it is eventually; but Adelson seems to be the most likely candidate, since he lives in Nevada.

A younger Donald Trump with his father Fred Trump

A younger Donald Trump with his father Fred Trump

I know I’ve been writing way too much about Donald Trump lately, but I just had to share something that Dakinikat told me about yesterday. These are old links that I somehow missed when I wasn’t taking Trump seriously early on. Apologies if someone has posted these at Sky Dancing previously.

It looks very much like Donald Trump’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan as a young man. From Boing Boing: 1927 news report: Donald Trump’s dad arrested in KKK brawl with cops.

According to a New York Times article published in June 1927, a man with the name and address of Donald Trump’s father was arraigned after Klan members attacked cops in Queens, N.Y.

In an article subtitled “Klan assails policeman”, Fred Trump is named in among those taken in during a late May “battle” in which “1,000 Klansmen and 100 policemen staged a free-for-all.” At least two officers were hurt during the event, after which the Klan’s activities were denounced by the city’s Police Commissioner, Joseph A. Warren.

“The Klan not only wore gowns, but had hoods over their faces almost completely hiding their identity,” Warren was quoted as saying in the article, which goes on to identify seven men “arrested in the near-riot of the parade.”

Named alongside Trump are John E Kapp and John Marcy (charged with felonious assault in the attack on Patrolman William O’Neill and Sgt. William Lockyear), Fred Lyons, Thomas Caroll, Thomas Erwin, and Harry J Free. They were arraigned in Jamaica, N.Y. All seven were represented by the same lawyers, according to the article.

The final entry on the list reads: “Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Road, Jamaica, was discharged.”

In 1927, Donald Trump’s father would have been 21 years old, and not yet a well-known figure. Multiple sources report his residence at the time—and throughout his life—at the same address.

Later on in his life, the elder Trump was sued for refusing to rent or sell his properties to African Americans.

A 1979 article, published by Village Voice, reported ona civil rights suitthat alleged that the Trumps refused to rent to black home-seekers, and quotes a rental agent who said Fred Trump instructed him not to rent to blacks and to encourage existing black tenants to leave. The case was settled in a 1975 consent degree described as “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated,” but the Justice Department subsequently complained that continuing “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents has occurred with such frequency that it has created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.”

If Donald Trump was raised in a home where racism was acceptable, that could explain some of his behavior today. It’s certainly interesting to know about this, and I regret that I didn’t read this article when it first appeared in September. You might want to read this piece at the Academe blog as well: Does It Matter if Donald Trump’s Father Was a Member of the Ku Klux Klan?

Trump rally las vegas

Naturally the Trump rally in Las Vegas last night produced more shocking news. McKay Coppins reports at Buzzfeed: Trump Campaign Rally Erupts In Chaos And Ugly Confrontation.

The Republican frontrunner had invited a supporter up to the stage to recount how his son was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Midway though the story, a pair of protesters interrupted.

“That’s why we need gun control!” one called out from the sea of Trump die-hards in the Westgate Resort and Casino ballroom. Click useful source here.

A zealous chorus of boos filled the room, while the two protesters brandished a homemade poster (“NO HATE. YOU’RE FIRED.”) and began shouting over the din….

By the time security swooped in, several amped-up Trump supporters had already encircled the protesters — booing, and chanting, and slowly closing in — while a crush of smartphone-wielding media scrambled to capture footage of the clash. The guards managed to remove one protester, but the other resisted, stiffening his limbs and screaming about the First Amendment as they tried to haul him toward the exits. When he toppled to the floor, a horde of rallygoers assembled to hurl insults and threats at him.

“Light the motherfucker on fire!” one Trump supporter yelled….

One after another, protesters were forcibly dragged from the ballroom — limbs flailing, torsos twisting in resistance — while wild-eyed Trump supporters spewed abuse and calls to violence.

“Kick his ass!” yelled one.

“Shoot him!” shouted another.

Unreal.

Cruz
Trump’s main competitor tonight should be Ted Cruz. From CBS News: Why Ted Cruz might be a threat to Donald Trump.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has surpassed businessman Donald Trump in three recent Iowa polls of likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers. Trump has taken notice, and has begun to cast doubt on Cruz’s fitness for the presidency, calling Cruz a “bit of a maniac” on Fox News Sunday, for instance. The two have come a long way sincecampaigning together against the nuclear deal a few months ago, but that was back before Cruz was polling so well in Iowa.

Trump doesn’t like anyone who challenges his lead in the polls – he compared neurosurgeon Ben Carson to a child molester with a pathological disease when Carson’s popularity began rising among Iowans. But while Carson may be seeing his moment pass, Cruz is peaking as voters begin to settle on their favorite candidates, and his mastery of the issues reassures many evangelical voters who would otherwise like Carson.

Read the rest to learn the reasons author Rebecca Kaplan believes Cruz could beat Trump. Frankly, I think Cruz is actually the scarier of the two. A couple more articles on Cruz:

WaPo Wonkblog: A guide to what Ted Cruz really believes.

NBC News: GOP Latinos Slam Ted Cruz and Self-Deportation Plan On Eve of Debate.

So . . . will you be watching the clown show tonight? What stories are you following?