What a Trump Presidency Could Mean for Artists
I have not used this blog to speak about politics overtly before. I do so with some trepidation now, but I feel compelled to add my voice to the others out there who are trying to process what it might mean to have a Trump presidency, both for artists and for all people. Laura Lee Burch made the Presidential puppets featured at the top of this post. They are pretty joyful and fun. Did she imagine that a Trump win was possible when she made them? Maybe she will answer us in the comments… 🙂
What so many of us thought would be impossible happened on Tuesday. I had three pages open (NPR, CNN and the NY Times) on my computer with maps and data and watched in horror for hours as Hillary lost her lead. He won and my heart sank. I wish I could move far, far away… The man embodies a lifestyle and values that are in complete opposition to what I hold sacred. I didn’t like it when Bush won either and we survived him, although his presidency caused tremendous damage that apparently people either ignore or have forgotten. Obama inherited a mess and was unable to get enough done with a congress that refused to work with him.
A bit about me.
My name is Rachel Biel. I launched TAFA in 2010 and Artizan Made in 2014. My parents took me as a baby to Brazil in 1962. They were Lutheran missionaries in the interior, close to Paraguay. Brazil is very similar to the United States in terms of being a huge country with a diverse population, a history of slavery and struggles for power. We arrived right before full fledged development kicked in.
Kennedy was loved and mourned. The Peace Corps was active and American companies had a strong presence. We left in 1980. In those 18 years, I experienced the best and most creative childhood one could wish for. We all think of those days as the richest of our lives. But, most of those years were also lived under a military dictatorship and the most ruthless President, the one that worked the closest with the CIA and under whom the most people were tortured and disappeared was a Lutheran of German descent.
I didn’t really understand that until I went to college, St. Olaf. I was fortunate to study under an innovative system called the Paracollege, now defunct. You picked three fields of study, had a professor assigned to each, and then integrated the three into a senior project where a topic was studied. Mine was “Church and State Relations in Brazil” and I researched what that meant under the lenses of political science, sociology and religion. Not a thing you can do with that professionally, except that it teaches you how to think. And, I learned about all of the awful things that happened in Brazil and Latin America while I was enjoying my happy childhood. I had nightmares and it took me a long time to understand the difference between what a government does and how separate its people are from it.
From there, I went to Chicago where I spent the next 20 years. I lived in an inner city neighborhood (Logan Square) where gang violence was the game of the day. I saw kids with oozies walking down the street in broad daylight. I was at a pastor’s house down the street from where I lived when bullets came flying in through his kitchen window. It was dangerous, but we were not the targets. At first I worked in social service, which I loved, but which left me a wreck. I found the marriage of all of my interests when I started working at the economic development unit of Uptown Center Hull House. I ran an artisan’s cooperative for four years, made up of both local artists and recent immigrants who had handicrafts to sell. After that, I had three brick and mortar shops which evolved over the next fifteen years, ending with a 5,000 square foot space in partnership with Abdul Wardak of Afghan Tribal Arts.
We had monthly openings with performances, exhibits supporting local artists, and so on. By then, I had been also selling on eBay (which lasted for nine years) and I got on to Etsy in its 2nd year. The 20 years in Chicago were amazing, full of multi-cultural experiences where I kept learning about politics and society in other countries, how these recent immigrants integrated into American society, entrepreneurship, and my love for handmade expanded and grew as I learned to recognize techniques and products made by groups around the world. I learned about fair trade, about the economic development potential the arts has in impacting both local communities and international trade. I saw the availability of certain crafts disappear as their countries of origin were damaged by war, natural disasters or industrialization.
When I started in business in Chicago, the environment was supportive of small businesses and there were many opportunities for funding and for promotion through city and federal channels. Local papers were always looking for stories. By the time I left in 2005, it was all about money and who was connected to whom. I left because is was expensive and I had been getting more into online sales, didn’t need a huge overhead with a physical location and wanted to live somewhere with a lower cost of living and still being able to connect to the world. That has happened beyond my expectations through the friendships that have developed through TAFA and through other channels online.
All of these experiences, from childhood through this life in a shack in Kentucky, where I have lived for the last 11 years, inform me and propel me to do what I do. I seem to be very good at creating community and at building structures, but I have been very bad at making money. My whole adult life has been one of financial stress with pockets here and there of relief. I would feel very bad about it EXCEPT that I think it is the common story of the struggling artist. From what I have seen, there is either a spouse with a stable paycheck or an inheritance that makes it possible for some to make art without this stress. The rest of us live in poor housing, hold part time jobs and do whatever needs to be done to make it through. We’ve seen funding dry up, galleries close and little investment in the creative development of our children. Art is disposable, a non-essential and artists don’t really count as citizens. My best years as an entrepreneur and artist were Clinton years.
So, when someone like Trump is considered a successful business man and someone who deserves the most powerful office in the world, my hackles go up and I quaver inside. It’s horrifying to me.
If you want to put me in a box, yes, I’m on the left of the spectrum. I’m a peasant, an old hippie who is probably idealistic. I’m a Christian, but feel co-opted by the religious right. I think the Dalai Lama is the coolest dude on this planet. I could care less about what people do in their bedrooms. I believe that we should abide by the constitution, the rule of law, and am ardently in support of the separation of Church and State. Instead of the 10 Commandments, I uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guide for governance. Basically, I think we are smart enough, have the technology to implement it and just need the vision to end hunger and illiteracy in the world, to house everyone, to create corridors for and protect wildlife, to clean up the oceans, and to just be better as humans than we have been. Within that, art has a sacred place. Where would we be without our dreamers, musicians, dancers, and prophets?
Also, there are many in my family who are Republicans and I have many good friends who are also Republicans. This post is not a wail against the Republican party, but specific to Donald Trump as a leader.
My top concerns about Trump as President
Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. He says it’s a hoax created by the Chinese. National Geographic spells out what this means here. It talks about things going really bad at around 2100. But, the North Pole is melting way faster than anyone predicted (no ice by next year!!!) and we have had the hottest summers ever in the last three years with weather patterns changing, bringing storms and natural disasters. We are past the point of no return. The oceans are dying, drought is happening and I think this should be our number one priority above all else. None of our special interests will matter when we face what is coming. I just saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, Before the Flood, the other night and applaud him with all my heart for being such a concerned advocate.
A Vanity Fair article about Donald Trump’s narcissism led to many others both for and against this assessment of him. That this should even be on the table is of great concern to me. He will have access to nuclear codes and other top secret info soon. The ghost author of Trump’s autobiography worked closely with him in the 1980’s and regrets painting him in such a good light. He is very worried about what Trump will do as President.
Racism and Sexism
I don’t think I need to go find documentation on this as if you are reading this, you probably already know. If you are not a white male, watch your back. If you are female, watch your front.
FBI Role in Election
The current director of the FBI, James Comey, is a life-long Republican who currently does not claim party affiliation. When I saw the big hoo-ha on Hillary’s emails again, just before the elections, I looked for information on whether this was a deliberate attempt to influence voters against her. I couldn’t find anything then, but now there are many articles surfacing. What worries me, is that many comedians and other artists have been outspoken and vehemently against Trump and I fear retribution against them. We have had increased surveillance in this country and I can envision a new McCarthy era where people are persecuted if they do not stroke Trump’s ego. I hope this does not happen, but worry about how freedom of speech might suffer under him, even if disguised by other moneyed tools.
Back then it was the Red Scare. Substitute the word “communist” for “patriot” and you might get close to what today’s trials might be about.
Trump and Putin
Looks like they are buddy-buddy and that there may have been some Russian trying to influence the elections. There is even a site dedicated to pointing to the perils of such an alliance, putintrump.org. Two peas in a pod, from what I can tell, but can two narcissistic leaders get along for long? My impression of Russia right now is of quick wealth from oil, of starvation in the cities, of the mafia, drugs, kidnappings, sex trafficking and the invasion of the Ukraine. This was brought close to home when one of our members, Elena Ulyanova, felt like she had to leave her home and move to Poland if she wanted to continue her work as a textile artist. Elena teaches workshops on botanical dyeing and it became increasingly difficult to get travel visas and potential students no longer felt safe to come and visit her. I helped her create a video for her IndieGoGo fundraiser last year:
I believe that someone with Trump’s personality could start WWIII. It scares the pants off of me. He could be the guy to nuke Iran or Pakistan and then it’s over.
Trump, Nov. 12, 2015: This is the Trump theory on war. But I’m good at war. I’ve had a lot of wars of my own. I’m really good at war. I love war, in a certain way, but only when we win.
Although, the statement comes with disclaimers, it still scares me.
Niemoller’s statement is one of the reasons I am writing this post. Wikipedia:
Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller (German: [ˈniːmœlɐ]; 14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for his statement “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist …… and there was no one left to speak for me.”
He was a national conservative and initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, but he became one of the founders of the Confessional Church, which opposed the nazification of German Protestant churches. He vehemently opposed the Nazis’ Aryan Paragraph but made remarks about Jews that some scholars have called antisemitic. For his opposition to the Nazis’ state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. He narrowly escaped execution. After his imprisonment, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis. He turned away from his earlier nationalistic beliefs and was one of the initiators of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. From the 1950s on, he was a vocal pacifist and anti-war activist, and vice-chair of War Resisters’ International from 1966 to 1972.He met with Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War and was a committed campaigner for nuclear disarmament.
We must speak out and people CAN change. I do see parallels between Hitler and Trump, but the ONLY reason Hitler was able to pursue his agenda was because masses of people listened to him and obeyed him. I voted for Hillary because I 70% agree with her, respect much of her path as a public servant, feel that she would have made a rational choice as the first woman President, but there is about 30% that I don’t agree with her or with Obama. One of them is how we go about war. I understand the need for some kind of policy that protects our national interests and security. But, I think we have been going about this the wrong way ever since we became a big player in international politics. The fact that we “take out” our enemies using drones in other countries is insane! Where is the rule of law? Why was Bin Laden assassinated and dumped in the ocean without an international court and trial? How can we justify keeping Guantanamo open? This is how we make enemies overseas and if Obama and Hillary, who are pretty stable and restrained endorse what we do, where is Trump going to take this cowboy behavior?
Well, those are the biggies. How does this apply to our artist community?
What we can do
Vote with your money
Trump is about money and bankruptcies. If you have stocks, assets of any kind, invest in green technology. Run away from oil! Co-op America has a great listing of green options, companies that will invest responsibly and find other options of how you can use your money to voice your interests.
Support the artists, organizations, and media that reflect your voice. I am especially worried about our public radio and tv stations as they are perceived as liberal and could get sacked. (TAFA could definitely use some financial support, hint, hint…)
Although I haven’t been politically vocal before this post on TAFA, if you have explored our member profiles, you will definitely see a healthy representation of textile artists and groups who are working with natural materials, growing their own dyes, using garbage to make art… I specifically look for those kinds of artists and invite them for membership.
Look at your buying patterns and see how you can support the people who are working against waste. Avoid plastics and synthetics unless you are using them as recycled materials. Go organic. Think about your carbon footprint and figure out how you can reduce it. I’ve always felt a tension between what we do and what I feel. Most of us are making things that nobody really needs, yet I truly believe that the process of making is extremely important in defining who we are as people, in retaining knowledge of where things come from, in creating community… It’s a Catch-22 that each of us has to explore.
Anton is gay, weaves and makes these wonderful textiles with salvaged buttons. Many of his themes have to do with identity and living in a refugee camp as a child. Anton lives in Australia.
Engage in your local community
I know I don’t do enough locally and I feel really bad about it. I live in a Republican state and have been very well received here. (I am white, but I think it doesn’t matter all that much here.) The dog park has been my biggest place of social interaction as I go several times a week with my chihuahua. Last week two women were there going on and on about “Hillary, the crook and the liar” (one was wearing a Trump t-shirt) and I didn’t say anything. Why? I felt like their minds were already made up and that it would just lead to friction. But, there are other ways of shining your light, through cooperation, through kindness, by being friendly… especially if you have a cutey-pattootie dog that everyone likes.
I would like to do more, but need to figure out how to balance my time as I already feel like I don’t have a life. My mother and I had a huge conflict when I was a teenager. I just wouldn’t behave like she wanted me to. I was a tomboy and she wanted me to be a poised girl. My best friend was Japanese. My mother saw her first black person when she was in college. What did she expect, carting me off to some foreign country when I was a baby? That I would be “normal”? Well, people here in Kentucky have been very gracious to me (even if they do have a ton of guns) and I would like to give back in my abnormal way. Maybe my light will shine in a new way for them.
Take the high road
I don’t mean pot…. (One of the things passed in this election is that California now allows recreational use of marijuana. I don’t use it, but can giggle over innuendos.) Be nice. Be the better person. Don’t bring yourself down to Trump’s level. There have been protests already:
I’m sorry, but these protests smell of hypocrisy to me. This energy should have been put into getting the vote out. I was feeling really bummed out in thinking that 50% of the American population was on the opposite side of my thinking. How could that be? But, then I saw that only around 50% of the eligible population voted. This means that only 25% of our population is really FOR Trump, giving us 75% who is completely opposed, doesn’t care or was too busy. But, even though this made me feel better, when I looked at the stats of how many votes each candidate was getting, in ALL of the close calls that I looked at, Hillary would have won the election if the 3rd party voters had voted for her. So, if they felt as bad as I did about Trump, they should have ensured a win against him by investing in the woman. The way to get Trump is to wait until he does something illegal as President and then have him impeached. Breaking windows and vandalizing private citizen’s properties is not the way to go.
The system is imperfect. We all have flaws. There are tyrants ruling around the world. Be vigilant, but with compassion. Be strong, but with kindness. Show a different road. I watch a lot of TV late at night and am always interested in shows that explore a new world, sci-fi explorations of what would happen if we went backward to start over or forward to the far future. There is always this promise of utopia and it always degrades to the bad guys sneaking in with guns and making the experiment go awry. The only way to defend it is with more guns that were brought in just-in-case. We are human and our humanity is flawed. Yet, I still believe that if we can agree on some basic rights and laws, we can imagine a future where most people will be able to live out their dreams. Of all the models I have seen, the democratic ones get my vote. I think that Donald Trump is bad news for both artists and for the world, but he won, fair and square because we, as a nation, didn’t care enough to get out there and vote against him. Now we have to live with the consequences and hopefully we can do it with dignity and clarity.
Humor is a balm
I have to say that I am concerned about these guys, but they have been a balm to my wounds:
Brave, brave souls…. And, while expressing their disappointment, also able to inspire and own our time.
Time to stop. There are many more thoughts and if you have made it this far, I invite you to use the comment section to express your views. In no way to do you have to agree with me, but I do expect thoughtful comments that are not rants. I’ve seen some awful behavior online, thankfully not here! But, I am interested in how you feel, specifically, a Trump Presidency might impact your life as an artist, as a creative person, or just as a human.
These past two days have been ones of great angst for me as I tried to find the path where I can be generous and hopeful with Trump as President. I was further thrown down the hole of sadness when I learned of Leonard Cohen’s death today. Oh, pierce my heart!!! Could he just not take the idea of Trump as supreme leader? No…. His health has been bad and he was suffering, but what a loss! I just recently heard Terry Gross’s interview with him on why he left the Zen monastery and it is such a tender, honest exchange on depression, self-esteem, a longing for truth…. truly worth a listen! Getting Trump and losing Cohen just seems too much to bear, too ironic, too full of hidden meaning that is probably not even there… So, I leave you with this:
his last gift…
About Rachel Biel
We love hearing from our community!