Letter from New York City 
Altobelli received another letter from B. Reynard.
“I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that often art has judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts, and honor.” John Berger
Dictator by David Fox
Thanks for your last letter. It seems you were in a mood to talk serious politics rather than listen to my musings about the art world. Since then much has happened of course in the world and art perhaps should be put aside for now… or maybe not? More on that later.
Looking back on the last year, much occurred to shock and stun the world. Refugees, Alleppo, Isis, Brexit, and of course the rise of Donald Trump. Really, in hindsight, it was an exhausting voyage, 2016. On a personal note, my good friend, David Fox, you remember the painter I spoke of in my last letter, lost his two beloved cats, Emily and T-Boo which has left an enormous void in him. Now, before people start to think of him as a sentimental old fool I just want to put things in context.
The loss of a loved creature, human or animal, is a devastating event. 2016 seemed to be a year when Death visited the collective consciousness. Prince, Bowie, George Michael, Rick Parfitt, John Berger, ….all succumbing this past year. There was much collective mourning as well as deep personal sorrow. So I do not look back too fondly at 2016.
Where do we go from here? How do we move forward?
After a rather exuberant summer for me when I was enjoying beautiful weather, glorious days in the sun, the expectation of Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman president, the Fall, aptly named, came.
Things quickly fell apart.
Just when the world needs LOVE, what do we get but a man called Donald Trump to lead the way.
I was shocked. My friends were all shocked. Shocked isn’t the word. We were all completely speechless. I remember watching the election results as they began to trickle in and very early realized that Trump was going to make it. And of course he did.
I move in very liberal circles. New York is a liberal town and very Democrat. I don’t know too many people who voted for Trump, in fact, I know no one who voted for him. The prevailing opinion here is that, apart from his opinions on women and Mexicans, physically challenged people and a whole array of ugly biases, he is a buffoon with no idea of how to be a statesman and worse, no interest in learning about the world and being a beacon of freedom in that world. He is a businessman and by all accounts quite a flawed one. That is what people here say. The world concurs too. Anyone who reads the news knows this.
Yet the States is a very unique country. In some respects I am completely protected from it by living in New York. Once you travel over the Hudson River you realize how different America is. It is a vast land with millions of people all with very different opinions about what the United States of America is or means. New York City is regarded with fear and loathing by many as a place of crime, debauchery and filth and crime of all crimes, elitists. Not true of course, but old habits die hard. Those who voted for Trump think they are going to bring the USA back to its former glory. Trump has promised them this. Are they deluded? Well, the world is a very different place from the days of Ronald Reagan. There are cracks in the structure. The rise of Putin, the rise of China, the ever-present threat of terrorism, have all put USA on the defensive. We only have to pray that Mr. Trump will not be the loose cannon he’s accused of being and will not be ‘trigger happy’ now that he will receive the nuclear codes.
He promises much, but can he deliver? Can the United States be run as a corporation? He has put people in his cabinet who are not politicians. Some are completely without experience of running a government department. His idea of an economy is go back to the days of trickle down economics. We all know how that works. The rich get richer and the poor, well, they can muddle along as best they can. Already, as I type, Congress is beginning to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act also known as Obamacare. Republicans have no plan to replace it. They are just hell bent on destroying everything Obama managed to accomplish.
There are also many who have said that as he has been elected let’s try to make the best of it and work with him rather than against him. This may be the only option. And who knows, he might surprise us all by really affecting change. This remains to be seen. I think we will get a fair indication of how he will perform after his first 100 days. Every president makes certain pledges for their first 3 months, goals they wish to accomplish as acts of good faith towards the electorate. Trump has much to prove to the people of the USA.
The inauguration was the usual pomp and ceremony and in its way just as dignified as any other with the exception of Trump’s speech. Frankly, it was an embarrassment. He painted a dark picture of America, the same picture he painted on the campaign trail, namely a broken America mired in poverty and crime. He used the phrase 'American carnage.' This, to me, is completely fictional. It’s an image that he used to get the middle and working classes to believe so they would vote for him. Well, he won but the popular vote is against him and in fact he is the most unpopular President to take office in the history of USA.
In addition to this he is already in violation of the Constitution by retaining control of his business interests instead of divesting of them. In other words it is unlawful for a president to accept gifts or monies from foreign countries while holding office. Trump has many business interests around the world and profiting by them creates a conflict of interest.
The congressional hearings for his cabinet have been under way all week. What he has done is selected some of the most inexperienced folks to take charge of Defence, Health, Education etc., entrusting these significant and important tasks to people with no knowledge whatsoever of government or policy.
Well, I could go on and on. In fact, as I type there is an investigation underway to sift through potential evidence connecting Russian interference with the elections to determine Trump's role, if any, in this process. President Trump has denied this of course and as President may well use his authority to actually close down the investigation. Meanwhile the Trump presidency is already moving to eliminate anything and everything that the Obama administration put in place.
What can I say? The world's reaction is plain to see. There are protests all over the globe. Women descended upon Washington, DC as indeed in many other cities across the USA. I personally know many women who marched for their rights. They have legitimate grievances and are making their voices heard even though they may fall on deaf ears. In fact, as I write I have just read that President Trump just signed an anti- abortion law.
“Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule, which was first put in place by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. It prohibits giving US funding to international nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on a wide range of family planning and reproductive health options if they include abortion ― even if U.S. dollars are not specifically used for abortion-related services.“
The leader of the free world is a powerful position with enormous responsibility. How Trump handles this remains to be seen.
I wish I had some uplifting news Altobelli but our times are dominated by urgent issues. As for Art, well I am sure there will be much to see in the near future regarding our new President. I anticipate a worldwide reaction. It doesn't really matter how little it may change things. It is important to make one's voice heard.
The issues revolve around power. Intellectuals and artists have for too long been preoccupied with individual expression. For a while, this seemed correct, a focus on freedom, a throw back to the sixties ethos. Yet, the rise of the individual on the left has paved the insidious way for power control on the right. The individual lost sight of the need for a collective. All the gains the left have made, gay rights, women’s rights etc are all good things a decent and healthy society wants and needs. But we also need to not be totally selfish. We need to become one. We need to think beyond our own selfish needs and address the planet, recognize other cultures and creeds too. This is where artists can direct their energies. Not their own self aggrandizement, not their own private vision, not their own fame, but in work that can address the world as a whole.
I would also like to say that the left has only itself to blame for this current state of affairs. Hilary Clinton neglected the very people who put Trump in power, namely the forgotten middle and working classes of Middle America. Complacency? Perhaps. But now the onus is on the left to work together to bring in a new era of cooperation with all people.
One other thing. I don’t like all the insults and name calling that has been going on in the media and social networks. President Trump may not be liked by a good many but he is the President and deserves some respect. I think all the insults and derogatory jibes just bring us down to a very low level. We are better than that. We should fight the fight with honor and dignity.
I will reiterate our need for love in the world over hate. We need to include rather than exclude. We need solidarity, to pull together. Forget the apotheosis of the individual and find our common humanity.
Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule, which was first put in place by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. It prohibits giving U.S. funding to international nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on a wide range of family planning and reproductive health options if they include abortion ― even if U.S. dollars are not specifically used for abortion-related services.
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