Dear Friends and Readers,
“When anger rises, think of the consequences.”
On October 24th, I heard on Morning Edition that the Atlantic’s new editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, asked his magazine to endorse Hillary Clinton. It is only the third time in the paper’s history that it has endorsed a presidential candidate. (The first was in 1860 when the Atlantic endorsed Abraham Lincoln on the basis of his advocacy for the abolition of slavery. Lyndon B. Johnson was the second in 1964 for his ability to mediate U.S. foreign policy through the stresses of the Marshall Plan and domestic civil and women’s rights movements.) In reading the Atlantic’s editorial, I realized that Barry Goldwater and Donald J. Trump share two unfortunate attributes: one, they take criticism from the press as personal affronts; two, they harbor immensely xenophobic tendencies. And though they share a number of other unattractive flaws, Trump has one notable, and grim, added dimension: his appalling behavior towards women, which has been regarded as everyday news since he became the GOP nominee last July. Almost everything we know about Trump—from his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” to his crusades on the outsourcing of American jobs, the national debt, illegal immigration, to his demonization of Muslims—dovetails with his sexism and xenophobia, and shows how each inevitably relates to the other: the women’s rights movement owes its birth, in part, to the civil rights movement. American women were inspired by African Americans taking their lives into their own hands. Their own personal histories were significant, and justified political action. How can one forget Gloria Steinem’s historic 1969 article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” and her relentless campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment and gender equality? How can one forget “Strange Fruit,” the song made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939 and written by Abel Meeropol, a son of Russian Jewish immigrants and high school English teacher in the Bronx (who later adopted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s two children after their parent’s execution) in protest against the lynching of African Americans? How can one forget the infamous practice of making accusations of treason without regards for evidence during the horrendous and repressive era of McCarthyism in the 1950s? How can one forget Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 “The Other America” speech, which undertook the issues of race, poverty and economic justice, that came after his forceful speech against the Vietnam War “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”? (I never forgot the powerful paragraph, “We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”) How can I forget Michael Harrington’s 1962 indispensable volume The Other America that undoubtedly had an impact on Dr. King, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s thoughts and attitudes toward poverty? How can one forget Richard Hofstadter’s 1962 classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life that explored how the emphasis on knowledge and education is often viewed as both elite and subversive, hence can be seen as a threat on social decadence, how the general population is encouraged to praise military prowess as a real test of character (a practice that props up political leaders), and how voters inevitably perceive displays of intellect with suspicion? There are endless other frightening realities one could cite, but one thing we all know with great certainty is that there is again a growing sentiment of anti-intellectualism and elitism in our culture that recalls, or is perhaps worse than, the decade of the 1950s. Science, arts, and humanities are slowly being replaced by entertainment, self-righteousness, and ignorance.
In the current horizontal media landscape, where everyone is deemed an expert, as Isaac Asimov wrote, “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Even more dispiriting is that a large amount of anger stems from poverty; frustration and ignorance are easily exploited by someone such as Trump with a taste for power and vanity inflated by media and reality TV. Trump’s exploitation targets the struggling working class that has turned into angry social media pollsters constantly spoon-fed Trump’s soundbites, all the while failing to realize that anger itself is the most destructive and toxic of all human attributes. One has the feeling that Trump spends a great deal of time fashioning his ambitions after the general characteristics of world dictators (who exude self-confidence, charisma, even sexual energy, yet are often brilliant liars, sadistic, and above all possess an insatiable appetite for power) rather than considering our history—how each of us is endowed with a particular genome, an organism’s complete set of DNA, that is the product of evolution stretching back hundreds of millions of years before the first humans. That is to say, to understand the linkage between past and present is absolutely essential for a good understanding of the condition of being human.
As history tends to repeat itself, it ought to remind us of our roots. The events of the past can be crystallized in a moment. And this moment is a historic one: a choice between the first woman president in U.S. history and a potential dictator who could be more destructive than Barry Goldwater. Please vote with a clear and good conscience.
In solidarity, as always,
P.S. This issue is dedicated to our recently deceased friends Tom Doyle, Shirley Jaffee, Lisa Liebman, Klaus Kertess, and Michael Ryan, whose contributions to our visual arts culture were paramount, evidenced by the made objects and critical writings which reflect our time. We send our deep condolences to their immediate families, relatives, friends, and admirers.
PHONG BUI is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.