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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."



Clement Greenberg, in later life, rarely discussed politics -- but he had political opinions, and they were to the left of center (some people called him a liberal, but he defined himself to me as a "socialist."). Artists also have political opinions, though only occasionally do these opinions successfully surface (Goya’s “Third of May” and Picasso’s “Guernica,” being two notable examples of "message art" that also succeed as art).

I don’t let artists' politics influence whether I will write about them. And my own segments on politics (which don’t appear that often) are separated from my artistic segments. But -- after this upsetting campaign---I need to get some thoughts about the candidates into print before Election Day.


I have a relative who lives in Paris. I love her very much, and she sends me email humor, much of which is very funny. However, lately it seems increasingly to be jokes about Donald Trump, and ever since October 6, when the Washington Post released a video showing him boasting about groping women, these online cartoons & jokes that I get from my relative have become increasingly vulgar and obscene.

I am sorry to say that I’m not amused. This is not because I’m a prude or because I like Trump. Quite the contrary: he scares me, and all this lighthearted revelry makes me very worried that people are not taking the threat of him seriously enough.

It’s so bad that I am afraid that he will get himself elected because of all the people who don’t like him but think he’s only a joke. They will be so busy laughing that they won’t bother to make it to the polls—or else make it to the polls, but vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate -- instead of casting their ballots for the only candidate who stands a reasonable chance of beating Trump: Hillary Clinton.

Admittedly, Clinton has not been immune to criticism. Over and over again, her adversaries have combed through the tens of thousands of leaked emails relating to her career as Secretary of State and/or speeches she made at private events and/or her present campaign – all in search of evidence that she did anything illegal, or at least embarrassing.

So far, the best they have been able to do is to establish that until the campaign began, she was a dauntless free trader. So – she changed her tune in response to the sentiments of potential voters. But don’t politicians of all stripes do this every day—and isn’t it even considered a good thing for them to listen to their constituents?

Beyond that, it is said that she lacks warmth. I think the same could have been said of Barack Obama back when he was first running for office. And Clinton has a fine progressive platform—with expressed concern about global warming, student loans, choice and the need for better gun control; a sound, well-reasoned program to improve the employment picture: using a modest raise in taxes, primarily on the rich, to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure (roads, bridges & so on).

Most important, she has the even temperament needed to handle the pressures of the Oval Office without flying off the handle.

By comparison, Trump thinks that global warming is “a hoax;” he would appoint a Supreme Court Justice committed to revoking Roe v. Wade; he is in the pocket of the NRA; he too would rebuild the infrastructure but seems vague about how to pay for it, since he is also in favor of slashing taxes for the rich.

This he thinks would lead them to hire a lot more people (the old and now thoroughly discredited “trickle down” theory of economics); most importantly, he flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, getting upset – as Hillary says – by even a tweet. Do we really need a man like that with a finger on the nuclear button?

All that said, he could still wind up winning the election. And, as I say, that scares me.

For some time now, the campaign has rocketed along at such a pace that yesterday’s headlines are all forgotten by tomorrow. As I start to write this segment of FMD, it’s October 17, but by the time I'm ready to put it online, it may be that all I have said herein has already been forgotten. I only hope that the advice I seek to inculcate will still remain worth consideration.


For a long, long time, Trump was having it all his way with those headlines. Ever since he first announced that he was running for President, he has been grabbing them on a regular—in fact, all but daily---basis. The media, when all is said and done, has not too much morality beyond a commitment to publish whatever is “new” –which is to say, “the news.”

And Trump is a master at manufacturing the sort of “news” – usually some audacious claim or other – that will (or at least would, until quite recently) land him on Page One in a relatively favorable light—at least, in the sense that some, maybe many Americans found in his pronouncements something they could relate to.

Whether it was attacking Mexicans as rapists and murderers or promising to crack down on Muslims, Trump was voicing attitudes that have festering underground ever since Barack Obama became President. Although relatively few of the people who share these prejudices are willing to express them publicly, they relate powerfully to a candidate who will express them.

Nor are they dissuaded by his half-hearted qualifications to these claims, since they don’t believe he really means them, anyway.


Many Americans, too, not least in the middle of the country—the “rust belt’ and the less affluent areas in the South – have not shared in the general economic revival that has been occurring over the past eight years—the Obama revival (these people hate even the name).

In the past month or two, the Times has run several stories on how the middle class is making more money that it was, how real incomes on a national basis are rising, and so forth. But in Middle Western cities that once relied on manufacturing and are now ghosts of their former selves, there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey (the US economy) has (to many inhabitants of this Middle America) struck out.

More to the point, liberal politics and trade policies are now looked upon as enemies rather than friends.

Time was, for example, when the great state of Wisconsin was a beacon of progressivism, with leaders like Robert M. La Follette; now it has Scott Walker for its governor, a union-buster if there ever was one, and is also the home of Paul Ryan, leader of the pinch-penny Republican majority in the U.S Congress.

Even without Trump, this type of area could go Republican in November---with him, who knows?

But even beyond the canny skill of his appeal to the downtrodden, Trump claims the headlines because he knows all about deadlines and Twitter and exactly what moment in the 24-hour news cycle to make his latest bid for fame (or notoriety).

Last spring and even over the summer, I spent hours of growing irritation studying the headlines on Page One of the Times, and marveling at how Trump and his fellow Republicans were milking their on-again, off-again romance for every possible inch of print (or pixel, or gif or whatever the appropriately up-to-the-minute term may be).

Day after day, Trump (with or without his fellow Republicans) would monopolize Page One, while Hillary Clinton –if she got mentioned at all – was buried on inside pages. Even when the Times --and other media – were “fact-checking” the candidates, Trump got most of the coverage – if only because he lies at a much more inclusive rate than Clinton does.


Then, on October 2, the New York Times published one of Trump’s 1995 tax returns. Right along, he has been refusing to release these (the return published by the Times had been sent via USPS to one of its reporters anonymously, but they were able to get it confirmed by one of the accountants who had helped to prepare it).

What it showed was a staggering loss – of $916 million, nearly a billion dollars. This would have enabled Trump to pay no taxes at all for up to 18 years. Maybe indeed, he is still exempt from paying, which would explain his refusals to release more recent returns.

His loyal fans, among them Rudy Giuliani, New York’s onetime mayor, and Chris Christie, New Jersey’s current governor, claimed that all this staggering loss did was make Trump look like a clever businessman. And he himself said that he thought it made him look “smart.”

But as Hillary Clinton didn’t hesitate to ask, if he was “smart” for not paying taxes, how did that make the rest of us look, those millions of us who manage to balance our budgets well enough so that we do pay taxes. Dumb?

I don’t know how many people were impressed by this logic, but one thing seems clear: there has been less talk about what a great businessman he is – if his businesses can lose money on such a colossal scale, he can’t be all that great.

The other thing the release of Trump’s tax return did was call attention to how unfair the tax code is, and how badly in need of reform. Hillary said crisply that the tax system was “rigged” in favor of the rich.

Trump retorted that since he knows more than she does about the tax code, he would know better than she does how to fix it -- but what possible incentive could he have to do so? Putting him in charge of tax reform would be like hiring the fox to look after the hen house.

I’m not sure about the date that his poll numbers started to look a little less good. Maybe the release of the tax return had something to do with it, although it doesn’t seem to have appalled many of the voters as much as it did me.

The way I looked at it, he has managed to make the rest of us to pay nearly a billion dollars to subsidize his incompetence and bad business sense. Never mind that the tax laws allow him to do this—so few people run up such staggering losses that the computer program used to fill out the form simply didn’t make it possible to type the full numbers into it, according to the accountant who verified it. He explained that he had had to insert that remarkable total by hand.


I do believe, however, that the uproar surrounding the Washington Post video in which Trump gloated about groping women was even greater.

He claimed that what he was said was merely “locker room talk” and that he’d never actually groped anybody—whereupon nearly a dozen women came forward to claim that he had indeed made unwanted sexual advances to them, at one time or another.

To this, he claimed that they were all lying, and that he’d sue them for libel after he won the presidency. Somehow this didn’t help his position as much as he’d hoped, because his poll numbers continued to sag—not all that much, but to such an extent that he claimed the election system is “rigged” against him” (using the same word that Clinton had used about the tax code).

Over and over again, he has charged that the US election system is “rigged” against him, and this is the only reason he is going to lose. His words have aggravated a number of people to the boiling point (on October 23, the NY Times ran an article by Lesley Alderman on how many people are getting really upset by this campaign, according to the psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who treat them).

One of the people who to my personal knowledge is really upset is a friend named Bob Zolnerzak. He became so incensed that he sent out the following email, with a subject line that says “Of COURSE it’s rigged!” And the text runs as follows:

“The REPUBLICANS have gerrymandered districts for YEARS, so that it’s TOTALLY rigged in their favor! They get (I don’t know the REAL figures, but they’re OUT there) 40% of the vote and 60% of the congressional seats!

They’ve been against gay marriage, income equity, psychedelics in therapy, gun control, racial equality, pot legalization---you NAME it---for YEARS!

And now a Howdy-Doody politician wants us all to shiver at the thought that “elections are rigged” to question why he might not be elected? TOTAL BULLCRAP!

I could vote for an orange-headed orang for President in New York and it wouldn’t affect ANYTHING because it’s ALREADY rigged!

They hated a Black President---think how they’ll react to a WOMAN as President!? OF COURSE OUR SYSTEM IS FUCKED UP!!! That’s why I had to get this email out to as many names as my lists would provide (alphabetically, so don’t complain about your order here!), and hope you would forward something like this to 35 OTHERS! With fulminating frustration! Bob Zolnerzak


True, Bob has his statistics a little bit off—but not by much, and the issue is of cardinal importance. Ever since 2014 (at least), Moyers & Company, the blog managed by Bill Moyers, the journalist & TV personality, has been pointing out that after the 2010 census, so many Republican-controlled state governments gerrymandered their Congressional districts that in state after state, they are now able to send many more Republican than Democratic representatives to Washington, even when total vote counts favor the Democrats.

In a posting of August 19, 2016, David Daley published an article in Moyers & Company headlined “The Real Way the 2016 Election is Rigged,” and predicted that the Democrats will be unable to take the House this year, even if they get more votes than the Republicans, because of all the gerrymandering that was done by the state governments in the wake of the 2010 decennial census.

(Parenthetically, I add that state governments controlled by Democrats surely did their share of gerrymandering, too, but they don’t control as many state governments, and especially not in “purplish” states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina).

By Daley’s reckoning, only 35 of the 435 seats in Congress are truly competitive today. In the remaining 400, one or another party has such a heavy majority that it is difficult if not impossible for the opposition party to elect a member of Congress to office.

And in 2014 (the newest number that popped up easily on google), the GOP controlled 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers – more than two-thirds of them, in other words, and the highest number in the history of the party.

Republicans at that time held the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states, while Democrats had that level of control in only seven.

Thus the potential for gerrymandering has mostly been in the power of Republicans, and they haven’t hesitated to use that power. Employing all the latest algorithms and other sophisticated tools, they have used it to such an extent that, according to Daley, they have built “a firewall” in Congress adequate to withstand a Clinton landslide of up to 10 percent.

In other words, she’s going to have to get more than 55 percent of the vote in order to sweep enough fellow Democrats into the House on her coattails (great 19th century word).

True, the picture in the Senate, though Daley doesn’t discuss it, is somewhat more favorable, at least in 2016. The current U.S. Senate has 54 Republicans and 45 Democrats (including one independent). There are 34 seats up for grabs, of which 24 are held by Republicans, and 10 are held by Democrats.

Democrats will need to gain only 4 or 5 seats to take control. And it’s important that the Democrats win control of the Senate, unless you want the current stalemate regarding the Supreme Court nominee to continue – even assuming that Clinton wins the Presidency.

And unless you want some sort of counterbalance to those socially-benighted, penny-pinching Republicans in the House.

Daley is really angry at all his fellow journalists – on the New York Times and elsewhere – who are running stories ignoring the gerrymandering issue and holding out what he considers false hopes that the Democrats can take Congress.

Bob Zolnerzak is angry because he knows the real score. He is doing what he can to spread the anger, and he is right to do so because we need to stay angry. That alone will get more of us to the polls, enough to counterbalance all those under-educated and often unemployed white males in Middle America who are also very angry and feeling left out of the Obama recovery.

These people cling to Trump as their man on a white horse (left-over phrase from the 30s and 40s, when dictators like Hitler, Mussolini & Francisco Franco were benefiting from economic depression & unrest in Europe)


And the latest polls show that Trump is narrowing the gap between himself and Hillary. She is still the front-runner, but only by a very small percentage. This sends shudders up my spine.

I am so afraid that this country will give us a re-run of the Brexit phenomenon in the UK. Although the polls gave an edge to those who wanted to stay in the European Union, too many of them took their triumph for granted and didn’t bother to vote. And look at what happened!

They must be sorry now, and I don’t want to wake up feeling sorry on November 9. So please, please, everybody VOTE. Be sure all your friends vote, too.

And vote the straight Democratic ticket, to get more Democratic senators and even representatives at least to the stage where they pose a threat and put the fear of God into those unenlightened Republicans.

True, the latest polls are still giving Clinton the edge, but I don’t trust these polls. I am afraid that too many people are lying to the pollsters. They say they are “undecided” but in their hearts they want Trump. They just don’t have the nerve to say so out loud, knowing what a bigot he is, and how much an affront to the democratic system.

Still, this business of lying may also benefit Hillary Clinton, to the extent that a lot of people seem to be afraid of Trump. This may mean that they don’t dare speak up in opposition to him—but may still vote against him in the privacy of the ballot booth.

But please, please, PLEASE don’t let’s take any of that for granted. Just VOTE, early and often. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance & all that….

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