The Tarells of this world don’t start in Hollywood or the Royal Shakespeare Company. They start at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, and that place has helped thousands of kids dream about something bigger than they knew – and what they knew was poverty in the inner city.

That’s Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade county department of cultural affairs, quoted by The Guardian’s Joanna Walters. He’s referring to Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play on which the film Moonlight was based, in Walters’ examination of some of the consequences of cutting the National Endowment for the Arts.

Spring was blunt on the plans:

It’s diabolical.

The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, though they seem to have survived this year’s budget, are very much in the crosshairs of the U.S. federal government. Arts are a public good, and state support, especially in disadvantaged areas, is essential.

But the appearance of saving money—though the money saved is minimal—is the only thing that matters to the Trump kakistocracy.

At the Museum of Modern Art, Protesters Demand Something

It’s understandable for artists to protest Trump, both because of his clear authoritarian tendencies and because his administration has cut the two most prominent federal arts programmes. But there’s a major problem when you hold a protest and nobody understands what it’s about:

Many visitors to the museum listened to the words but some seemed to have trouble understanding the message, which was clarified by handouts to the crowd that included a graphic by the Guerrilla Girls. One high school student from Virginia named Miranda was standing on the balcony when the protest began and told me she thought the protest was about: “The state of the world at this time and the election of Donald Trump.” She wasn’t clear about the action’s connection to the museum, but she thought most people visiting probably agreed with the protesters. When I explained to her that the action was directed at a MoMA board member connected to Trump, she said she understood the protestor’s intention. “I don’t agree with the state of the world now, it’s not safe,” she added to explain why she was unhappy with the new government.

Another group of visitors on the ground floor also had trouble understanding what was going on even as they were reading the handouts. When I approached two visitors from Charlotte, North Carolina, I asked them what they thought the issue was and one said, “Cultures are not being represented correctly, is that it?”

If your explanatory leaflet doesn’t explain, you need to work on your messaging.

Dale Beran on 4chan

A Sunday read by Dale Beran on the history of 4chan, its values (and why there’s no better word than that), its not insignificant influence on the election of Donald Trump. This is one of the best things I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended:

Trump the loser, the outsider, the hot mess, the pathetic joke, embodies this duality. Trump represents both the alpha and the beta. He is a successful person who, as the left often notes, is also the exact opposite — a grotesque loser, sensitive and prideful about his outsider status, ready at the drop of a hat to go on the attack, self-obsessed, selfish, abrogating, unquestioning of his own mansplaining and spreading, so insecure he must assault women. In other words, to paraphrase Truman Capote, he is someone with his nose pressed so hard up against the glass he looks ridiculous. And for this reason, (because he knows he is substanceless) he must constantly re-affirm his own ego. Or as Errol Morris put it, quoting Borges, he is a “labyrinth with no center”.

But, what the left doesn’t realize is, this is not a problem for Trump’s supporters, rather, the reason why they support him.

Garry Kasparov: “Making Him Look Like a Loser Is Crucial”

Speaking of you-know-who, there’s a lot of really great stuff in this conversation with Garry Kasparov on Vox.

Riots will only frighten the “moderate middle” you will need as allies sooner or later. If Trump convinces them with lies that the opposition is controlled by dangerous thugs, you’re going to have eight years of Trump and another of his kind to follow. Stick to the facts, repeat them boldly and frequently, so his supporters see the would-be emperor has no bathrobe!

The courts are important, but things won’t really change unless enough Republicans start to see Trump as a liability to their fundraising and reelection chances. That could be quite soon if he can’t fulfill his many campaign promises. Making him look like a loser is crucial. Either the GOP will turn on him or he will be chastened and more likely to compromise. If a demagogue succeeds in claiming credit for wins and scapegoating his enemies for losses, he’s very hard to stop.

Since the election, I’ve found Kasparov to be one of the most valuable people to follow on Twitter. Few people are more insightful or thoughtful or informed on the nature of autocrats.

Also, given that he supported McCain in 2008, this is damning:

GOP politicians are putting party over principles by supporting Trump so loyally, and by so doing, they reveal they don’t actually have any principles at all.

“Party over principles” could be the GOP slogan.

“Modern Art Was a CIA Weapon”

Absolutely fascinating piece by Frances Stoner Saunders uncovering the history of the CIA’s secret funding for abstract art in the US in the 1950s.

The piece is more than 20 years old, but I hadn’t heard any of it before. An essential read.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art – President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.” As for the artists themselves, many were ex- communists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.

Unlikely we’ll get anything half as good from the Trump administration, alas. The only indication that cabal has given of an awareness of the arts is an attempt to cut programs that cost 0.02% of the federal budget.

A Return

I feel like I’m quite lucky that this blog is just a side gig for me, since it means I don’t have an editor sitting on my shoulder asking for work. It’s been almost seven months since the last post. My followers on Twitter will be aware of the horror with which I’ve watched recent political events unfold—most notably the U.S. presidential election, and the American right playing into the hands of a fringe group of authoritarian extremists.

But the protests give hope. I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. America will get through this. Autocracy is inherently unstable, and the American people are too used to freedom (with granted asterisks on that freedom for women and minorities) to give it up lightly. It’s going to be rough, but it will pass, and, hopefully, what follows will be better.

But enough about the elephant in the room. In spite of international events, I bucked the trend and had a pretty great 2016. Between March and December, I got married, and my wife and I bought our first house, and had our first child. That’s enough to keep most people occupied for a couple of years, so maybe it’s no surprise that side gigs fell away.

Over the next few months, I’ll be taking this blog back to regular (or less-irregular) activity. It’ll mostly be link-blog type stuff (mostly arts, some politics, since there is no escaping politics, and there is really no escaping politics now), with the odd longer comment piece, and links to anything I write elsewhere online.

There is also a bigger project, which I have been working on for some time, and will announce before the end of the month.