Art & Artists in the Age of Trump

Like almost everyone I know, I woke up to a new reality on November 9. The sense of unreality I felt then hasn’t abated at all, and I feel like I’m inhabiting an alternate universe, one whose landscapes bear little resemblance to those before the election. Assumptions I had all my life about this country and the presidency (that no president would appoint or nominate people so clearly unfit for or so bent upon the destruction of the very agencies or departments they have been tapped to lead; that no president would prove to be a pathological liar; that no president would name an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite to be one of his closest advisors and chief political strategist, just to name a few) are collapsing at an alarming rate, and the steady stream of awful news and executive orders coming out of the Trump White House has quickly become a torrent that is hard to keep up with. Every day, another outrageous tweet from our president. (We should call him our “president-in-tweet”!) Almost every day, another destructive executive order. It feels like Trump has been in office for a year, and it hasn’t even been a month! How can we— the American people, the world and all its peoples, the very environment and its endangered creatures—bear four years of this? The answer is, we cannot. We have to do everything we can to resist.

With this ongoing assault on our rights, our environment, and our American values, what should an artist (and by artist, I mean anyone involved in any of the arts: writers, painters, dancers, musicians, singers) do to resist? Is it selfish to continue to work on one’s art when so much is at stake? Shouldn’t we all be out marching in the streets and writing letters, sending emails and making calls to our representatives and senators?

We all need to speak up and have our voices heard at this crucial time in our history. For artists, as well as everyone else who is horrified by Trump and his minions, that means resisting by organizing and marching and by contacting our elected representatives, but it also means making time to keep producing our art. Indeed, our art is our voice, and singers and songwriters, for example, are already bringing those old 60’s-era protest songs out of mothballs and are busy writing new ones. In addition, the daily assaults on our freedoms takes its toll, and what better to uplift not only ourselves, but those who participate by viewing, reading, or hearing what we have to offer?

During the first rehearsal of my choral group that took place after the election, our conductor shared that he had received phone calls from some singers who felt so disheartened that they felt they wouldn’t be able to continue to practice their music and come to rehearsals. This surprised me. Surely, singing is an antidote to the profound sense of loss, confusion, and depression many of us are feeling. I don’t know who those individuals are who felt that way, but I hope they got over their initial shock and continued to attend rehearsals and make music, the beauty of which not only uplifts all of us in the chorale, but also the audiences at our performances. We all need this more than ever.

So here’s to making our voices heard in all the ways possible: by marching and chanting, making phone calls, writing letters—and also by taking the time to continue to create art that resists by pointing out the very injustices that we’re facing and uplifts and inspires ourselves and others.

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