Critiques & Commentary

10/24/16 Happy Monday!

Have we gone absolutely nuts?

It would seem that in America today, there is but one undisputed crime/sin: to be given a loan, whether or not made under false pretenses, that one cannot subsequently pay back.

10/23/16 Sunday….

On Sundays, we write but don’t post. Still, when I saw this I thought I should put it up.

I’m no great fan of B-HL, but I’m a huge admirer of Dylan, and I think he utterly deserved his Nobel.

10/22/16 Peggy Noonan gets it right….

Imagine a Sane Donald Trump
You know he’s a nut. What if he weren’t?

Oct. 20, 2016 7:07 p.m. ET
Look, he’s a nut and you know he’s a nut. I go to battleground states and talk to anyone, everyone. They all know Donald Trump’s a nut. Some will vote for him anyway. Many are in madman-versus-criminal mode, living with (or making) their final decision. They got the blues. Everyone does. They’re worried about the whole edifice: If this is where we are, where are we going?

I get the Reagan fantasy—big guy with a nonstandard résumé comes in from the outside, cleans out the stables, saves the day. But it’s a fantasy and does not apply to this moment. I get the Jacksonian fantasy—crude, rude populist comes in from the hinterlands and upends a decadent establishment to the huzzahs of normal people with mud on their boots. But it’s a fantasy, and doesn’t apply.

Because he’s not a grizzled general who bears on his face the scars of a British sword, and not a shining citizen-patriot. He’s a screwball. Do you need examples? You do not, because you’re already thinking of them. For a year you’ve been observing the TV funhouse that is his brain.

I offer an observation from Newt Gingrich, Trump friend and supporter, on David Drucker’s Washington Examiner podcast. Mr. Gingrich lauded Mr. Trump because he “thinks big” and is a transformational character. But he spoke too of Trump’s essential nature. The GOP nominee “reacts very intensely, almost uncontrollably” to “anything which attacks his own sense of integrity or his own sense of respectability.” “There’s . . . a part of his personality that sometimes gets involved in petty things that make no sense.” He found it “frankly pathetic” that Mr. Trump got mad because Paul Ryan didn’t call to congratulate him after the second debate.

Mr. Gingrich said he hopes this will change. But people don’t change the fundamentals of their nature at age 70.

Mr. Trump’s great historical role was to reveal to the Republican Party what half of its own base really thinks about the big issues. The party’s leaders didn’t know! They were shocked, so much that they indulged in sheer denial and made believe it wasn’t happening.

The party’s leaders accept more or less open borders and like big trade deals. Half the base does not! It is longtime GOP doctrine to cut entitlement spending. Half the base doesn’t want to, not right now! Republican leaders have what might be called assertive foreign-policy impulses. When Mr. Trump insulted George W. Bush and nation-building and said he’d opposed the Iraq invasion, the crowds, taking him at his word, cheered. He was, as they say, declaring that he didn’t want to invade the world and invite the world. Not only did half the base cheer him, at least half the remaining half joined in when the primaries ended.

The Republican Party will now begin the long process of redefining itself or continue its long national collapse. This is an epochal event. It happened because Donald Trump intuited where things were and are going.

Since I am more in accord with Mr. Trump’s stands than not, I am particularly sorry that as an individual human being he’s a nut.

Which gives rise to a question, for me a poignant one.

What if there had been a Sane Donald Trump?

Oh my God, Sane Trump would have won in a landslide.

Sane Donald Trump, just to start, would look normal and happy, not grim and glowering. He would be able to hear and act on good advice. He would explain his positions with clarity and depth, not with the impatient half-grasping of a notion that marks real Donald Trump’s public persona.

Sane Donald Trump would have looked at a dubious, anxious and therefore standoffish Republican establishment and not insulted them, diminished them, done tweetstorms against them. Instead he would have said, “Come into my tent. It’s a new one, I admit, but it’s yuge and has gold faucets and there’s a place just for you. What do you need? That I be less excitable and dramatic? Done. That I not act, toward women, like a pig? Done, and I accept your critique. That I explain the moral and practical underpinnings of my stand on refugees from terror nations? I’d be happy to. My well-hidden secret is that I love everyone and hear the common rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Sane Donald Trump would have given an anxious country more ease, not more anxiety. He would have demonstrated that he can govern himself. He would have suggested through his actions, while still being entertaining, funny and outsize, that yes, he understands the stakes and yes, since America is always claiming to be the leader of the world—We are No. 1!—a certain attendant gravity is required of one who’d be its leader.

Sane Donald Trump would have explained his immigration proposals with a kind of loving logic—we must secure our borders for a host of serious reasons, and here they are. But we are grateful for our legal immigrants, and by the way, if you want to hear real love for America then go talk to them, for they experience more freshly than we what a wonderful place this is. In time, after we’ve fully secured our borders and the air of emergency is gone, we will turn to regularizing the situation of everyone here, because Americans are not only kindly, they’re practical, and want everyone paying taxes.

Sane Donald Trump would have spoken at great and compelling length of how the huge, complicated trade agreements created the past quarter-century can be improved upon with an eye to helping the American worker. Ideology, he might say, is the pleasant diversion of the unworried, but a nation that no longer knows how to make steel cannot be a great nation. And we are a great nation.

Sane Donald Trump would have argued that controlling entitlement spending is a necessary thing but not, in fact, this moment’s priority. People have been battered since the crash, in many ways, and nothing feels stable now. Beyond that no one right now trusts Washington to be fair and wise in these matters. Confidence-building measures are necessary. Let’s take on the smaller task of turning around Veterans Affairs and see if we can’t make that work.

Sane Donald Trump would have known of America’s hidden fractures, and would have insisted that a healthy moderate-populist movement cannot begin as or devolve into a nationalist, identity-politics movement. Those who look down on other groups, races or religions can start their own party. He, the famous brander, would even offer them a name: the Idiot Party.

Sane Donald Trump would not treat the political process of the world’s greatest democracy as if it were, as somebody said, the next-to-last episode of a reality-TV series. That’s the episode that leaves you wondering how the season will end—who will scream, who will leave the drunken party in a huff, who will accuse whom of being a whore. I guess that’s what “I’ll keep you in suspense” as to whether he’ll accept the election result was about. We’re being teed up. The explosive season finale is Nov. 8. Maybe he’ll leave in a huff. Maybe he’ll call everyone whores.

Does he know he’s playing with fire? No. Because he’s a nut.

Sane Donald Trump for president. Too bad he doesn’t exist.

10/22/16 A question that needs to be asked, in my opinion….

I’m posting this in its entirety, since the WSJ operates behind a paywall. It’s a question that’s been troubling me for years as I look at contemporary art and ask myself “What the hell..?”

Remember When Art Was Supposed to Be Beautiful?
Contemporary art is obsessed with the politics of race, gender and sexuality.
Oct. 21, 2016 6:58 p.m. ET
Soon after seizing power in 1979, Iran’s new Islamist regime set about transforming the country’s identity by staging a “cultural revolution.” Followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini temporarily closed the universities, purged thousands of ideologically suspect faculty and students and rewrote the curriculum wholesale.

My mother, then an art student in Tehran, remembers how the revolutionaries raided the country’s great libraries, using markers to cross out offensive images in the art books. The nascent Islamic Republic was fighting a bloody war against Iraq at the time, but there was also a battle on the home front: against Hellenistic sculpture, the Renaissance nude and American cinema.

Growing up in that climate alerted me to the power of great art. Khomeini’s regime was a seemingly omnipotent police state that claimed to derive legitimacy from Almighty God. Yet it was somehow fearful of the human form (and the human soul) as represented by, say, Titian.

Michelangelo’s masterpiece David at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. ENLARGE
Michelangelo’s masterpiece David at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
There was some connection between beauty and freedom—a link I only made years later after immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager. The mullahs resorted to censorship and violence to sever that connection. But in the Free World today it has been severed, not by any repressive regime, but by the art world itself.

In today’s art scene, the word “beauty” isn’t even part of the lexicon. Sincerity, formal rigor and cohesion, the quest for truth, the sacred and the transcendent—all of these ideals, once thought timeless, have been thrust aside to make room for the art world’s one totem, its alpha and omega: identity politics.

Now, identity has always been at the heart of culture. Who are we? What is our nature? How are we—as individuals and as groups—distinct from each other, from the animals, from the gods or God? But identity politics cares little for such open-ended questions. Its adherents think they already have all the answers, a set of all-purpose formulas that tell you who’s right and who’s wrong at a particular intersection of identity, power and privilege.

Contemporary art is obsessed with articulating those formulas in novel ways. If you ever find yourself wondering why nothing stirs inside you when you encounter contemporary art, chances are you’re suffering the effects of the relentless politicization of the arts. Every form and genre—whether high or low, or whether in the visual, literary or performing arts—is now obsessed with the politics of race, gender and sexuality.

This summer I spent a few weeks attending as many plays, exhibit openings, gallery talks and screenings as I could find in London. Every single one had something to do with identity politics.

Start with theater. At the Globe, built near the site of the original theater cofounded by Shakespeare, new artistic director Emma Rice is rewriting the Bard to fit her trendy politics. Among her rules: All productions must feature 50-50 sex parity among actors, regardless of the ramifications for narrative and meaning. “It’s the next stage for feminism and it’s the next stage for society to smash down the pillars that are against us,” Ms. Rice said in a recent interview.

At Gasworks, a prestigious gallery in Vauxhall, multimedia artist Sidsel Meineche Hansen used EVA 3.0, a digital humanoid figure used in video games and adult entertainment, to “explore the overlap between subjects in real life and objects in virtual reality, focusing on their accumulation by capital through the gender binary.” Her degraded, pornographic art is difficult to describe in a family newspaper.

A film festival at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was devoted to “themes of social and political identity,” as the program put it. The dozens of films, installations and talks on offer dealt with “how political identities are depicted”; “black aesthetics”; “politics as something you do with your body”; photography’s role as a “colonial tool”; “culture, aesthetics and learning through the lens of contemporary feminism”; “queer representational politics”; “the politics of gender and representation”; and on and on.

A group exhibition in ultra-hip East London was titled “Perform Gender: A Multidisciplinary Event Celebrating Art, Theatre, Queer Culture and Gender Equality.” It featured mounds of plaster breasts on the floors, menstrual pads taped to the walls and lots of sadomasochistic imagery.

Not even dance is immune. An artist’s talk at the South London Gallery was devoted to exploring “dance and identity politics” and “the political virtues of the twerk.”

It is inconceivable that so many directors, painters, filmmakers, dancers and performance artists could be inspired by nothing but the politics of race, gender and sexuality. There must be other subjects, in the world outside or in their inner lives, that deserve creative interest. Yet the art world’s ideological atmosphere is so thick and pervasive that those inside don’t even realize it is the air they breathe.

This state of affairs should alarm anyone who cares about the future of liberal civilization. Free societies need art that aspires to timeless ideals like truth and beauty, and that grapples with the transcendent things about what it means to be human. Such art allows us to relate to each other across identitarian differences and share a cultural commonwealth. When all culture is reduced to group identity and grievance, tyranny is around the corner.

Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial writer in London. This is adapted from his book, “The New Philistines: How Identity Politics Disfigure the Arts,” out this week from Biteback Publishing.

As I posted this, a thought occurred to me that needs saying. The point of this website isn’t to foment argument, since rational disputation no longer seems possible in our world. It’s simply to give my readers – friends mainly, I hope – something to think about or the odd moment of good cheer or enjoyment. If you want to pick a quarrel, do so by email:

10/22/16 An interesting point….

Lawrence Lessig was trashed in “the Podesta emails” generated by the Clinton campaign. He chose to turn the other cheek. Here’s the tale:

I too admire Lessig for his forbearance and moral generosity, but I disagree with him on one lesser point. Stupidity and indiscretion on the level displayed by the Clinton aide who wrote these emails deserves punishment, especially since anyone with a grain of common sense has to see that it is on the sender and her institution that these emails will backfire if they get out. A public example needed to be made. The sender should have been fired, with a certain amount of ado, by the Clinton campaign, or at the very least suspended. This country is perishing of ignorance; to reverse this trend, stupidity needs to be pilloried. We have lost sight of the prophylactic values of public humiliation. Bring back the stocks of Puritan times.

10/20/16 Most unattractive proposition ever….

One of the delights of life is watching The New York Times navigate the churning waters of our brave new world. I read the paper every day, I confess, mainly for the Death Notices (there are a couple of names I’m longing to see there, probably in vain), for Holland Cotter, Alastair Macaulay and the music criticism, for Lisa Saunders’ medical pieces in the magazine and for other stuff that serendipitously catches my eye. The latter may consist of interesting long-form stories, or sudden swerves into self-parody. One such was in last Sunday’s first section: a full page ad promoting a Times-run voyage around the globe in a chartered 757 for only $135,000 a head. “Exclusive” of course: limited to 50 people. Generally speaking, it’s my experience that the real exclusivity of something, whether social, cultural, gastronomic or whatever,  tends to be in inverse proportion to the number of times the word “exclusive” appears in the promotional material and advertising. I don’t know about you, Dear Readers, but the idea of forking over $135K ($270K a couple, I assume) to sit with 48-49 people you may or may not know or – more pertinently – probably do not want to know, in a metal tube hopping from one stop to another, none of them really interesting,   is pretty unappealing. It’s not like a cruise, where if you detest the others at the captain’s table you can go hide in your stateroom and do cabin service. I don’t know about you – but I’m going to have to pass, notwithstanding that the itinerary starts with a kickoff event in NYC presided over by Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger.

10/19/16 Stolen elections….

TECHNICAL ALERT: you need to copy/cut and paste the links I cite into your browser.

OK, given Carter’s politics in was perhaps inevitable that he’d omit that singular moment in 1960 when Mayor Richard Daley waved his wand and the graveyards of Cook County flew open and disgorged spirit voters to pull the lever for JFK.