Having it both ways

According to the NYT Trump is just like Hitler because Trump wants to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. See, Hitler controlled what artists could and could not make, threw some in jail even. Trump does not want the government to pay for art, therefore Trump is Hitler, QED.

Funding for the NEA is a mere droplet of budgetary allocations compared to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Artic Oceans of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Pentagon (none of which Trump wants to cut) so the move is largely symbolic.

The symbolism of the NEA, to its supporters, is that we are a country that cares about art, so we pay artists to make stuff. The symbolism to its detractors is that it is that the people who enjoy the art are rich folk who should just pay out of their own goddamn pockets, and besides, a lot of the art receiving government funds is crap. To supporters, budget cuts are a sign that America is really barbaric after all; to detractors, budget cuts are a sign that America is finally getting serious and the grown-ups are now in charge.

Simple enough, here is where it gets complicated: supporters of the NEA tend to be Progressives, and Progressives believe that government should be designed and managed by experts who use the persuasive and coercive power of the state to rationalize society away from primitive notions like culture, history, religion, family and region. Detractors tend to be Conservative, who think the government’s role is to represent and defend the nation, which is nothing other than a culture with a history, and made up of families, regions, and religion.

Without a foundational culture, you can’t have national art. There is no way to say “this is American art, so the American government should collect taxes under threat of imprisonment and pay for it.” If the Progressive vision is true, and society should be just a bunch of atomized world citizens maximizing their private pleasures and obeying the all-wise, all-good, central planners, then “National Art” is an offensively jingoistic and primitive concept. If the Conservative vision is true and we should, somehow, form a nation, then we should, somehow, have a national art we can all agree on, right? If you go back to the 19th century when -Civil Wars aside – we were a somewhat more homogenous nation, we had a national art, a sort of Neo-Renaissance look with icons… errr, I mean, portraits… of Washington and Lincoln. Shouldn’t the Conservative want that sort of art publically funded?

Everyone wants it both ways. The Progressive multicultural world citizens want National Art, the Conservative Nationalists don’t because they secretly realize that this continental empire of 330 million people is not one nation, and never was.


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