Brandon Ambrosino is a freelance writer in Delaware, who has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC, and The Economist.
Despite his concerted efforts to book big names for his inauguration, Donald Trump had to settle for not universally recognized acts such as Three Doors Down, Toby Keith and other artists I had to Google.
President Trump's struggle to attract performers to his inauguration was, in many ways, par for the course. The mainstream artistic communities in the U.S. have made it clear they aren't fans of our new commander-in-chief. From Hamilton's gentle post-curtain rebuke of Vice-President Mike Pence, to Meryl Streep's Golden Globes Trump takedown, professional artists seem to want everyone to know whose political side they're on. And more importantly, they want everyone to know whose political side art is on. When Ms. Streep instructed people to "Take your broken heart, make it into art," whether she intended it this way, she was heard to be giving advice to those heartbroken at Mr. Trump's election.
It's a bad idea to weaponize art in this way: Art belongs to everyone because it belongs to humanity. Art does set its eyes on politics at times, but – and this is the key – true art transcends politics. That's because art knows there are more important things in the world. Art invites us to explore human nature, to reconsider what it means to be a thinking and loving and hurting human being. Those kinds of humans exist in every political party.
A writer I admire once said that the good essayist – and I'd extend that to all good artists – "turns against himself." That is, artists are always questioning their own intentions and instincts. When an artist stops questioning herself, she ceases to grow. Her art becomes stale.
Any art that is based on the premise "Democrats are Good, Republicans are Bad" will almost certainly be a stale, artistic failure. Such black-and-white attempts at art seem cheap, little more than an afternoon special. As Martin Luther King Jr. believed, there's some good in the worst of us and some bad in the best of us. In holding up a mirror to human nature, honest art will reflect humans in their moral complexity.
As the election proved, entertainment and media elites who live on the coasts are severely out of ideological step with the rest of the nation. Some small-town folks from the middle of the country enjoy Broadway shows as much as New Yorkers – and they open their wallets when Broadway shows and the Rockettes tour through their largely white, blue-collar towns. Best, then, not to alienate them by sending the message that performing arts are against Trump supporters. Especially because, if some of these people really are as backward as we're told, wouldn't you want them to be in the front row of, say, Hamilton, so they can experience the beauty of diversity in action? Trump supporters could learn a lot from a theatre; no need to make them feel unwelcome there.
There are rumours that Mr. Trump might cut arts funding, which would be a terrible decision. But think about the way his mind works: If professional artists are sending the message that art belongs to Democrats, then why would his administration keep funneling money there? Same thing with Mr. Trump going to see Broadway plays or concerts: Why would he do that if he thought he was showing up only to be lectured? This is the new leader of our country – and various arts communities would do well to let him know he is welcome to enjoy their art.
If you're angry with Mr. Trump's supporters, go to a quiet room, close your eyes, and try to imagine three logical reasons why they might be happy with a Trump presidency. If you can't come up with these reasons easily, then that's a failure of imagination on your part. (There are plenty of these sorts of unimaginative people on social media.) That suggests to me that our country is in desperate need of a renewed artistic vision, one that transcends petty political infighting.
I believe Dostoevsky was right when he said that beauty will save the world. Best, then, not to keep it under a political bushel for the next four years.