Novelist Dave Eggers on Saturday took the Trump White House task on a new front: the unprecedented absence of, and hostility to, culture and the arts.
“This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture,” Eggers wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that quickly gained traction on social media. “Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists.”
Eggers noted that unlike under previous presidents, the Trump White House had sponsored no musical concerts aside from occasional ceremonial performances by the U.S. Marine Band.
“In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind,” wrote Eggers, the founder of the McSweeney’s literary magazine and author of books like “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” “One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed.”
While George W. Bush had a contest with aide Karl Rove to see who could read more books in a year, Eggers wrote, Trump has admitted he is not much a reader. “Outside of recommending books by his acolytes, Mr. Trump has tweeted about only one work of literature since the beginning of his presidency: Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury.’ It was not an endorsement.”
Eggers recounted how previous presidents — particularly Ronald Reagan — had publicly encouraged American artists and art forms, such as jazz, and hosted official visits and artistic programs at the White House and other official gatherings.
He also noted the importance of the arts to a free and democratic society: “Every great civilization has fostered great art, while authoritarian regimes customarily see artists as either nuisances, enemies of the state or tools for the creation of propaganda.”
And in a conclusion that many on social media were quick to isolate and share, Eggers noted that the arts are worth supporting even in times — perhaps especially in times — when other national issues may seem more pressing.
“With art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles,” Eggers wrote. “It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel.”
Eggers’ essay quickly became a trending topic, with many artists and blue-check influencers sharing it.
"But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles." Dave Eggers on the complete and utter lack of art in the WHite House, and why this matters. https://t.co/Y3VEpFUglH
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) June 30, 2018
Please read https://t.co/UDk1urnB9g
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) June 30, 2018
Dave Eggers: “With art comes empathy.” Hardly a coincidence that @realDonaldTrump has featured the arts less than any modern president. As in, not at all. Dave Eggers: A Cultural Vacuum in Trump’s White House https://t.co/DAv5jFLvLP
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) June 30, 2018