Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Chill in Indianapolis: A Diary of Trump's First 100 Days

January 23:

January 20, Inauguration day, will now be a day of patriotic devotion, according to news reports: the executive order reads:

“NOW THEREFORE I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virture of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2017 as National Day of Patriotism in order to strengthen our bonds to each other and to our country - and also to renew the duties of Government to the people.”

I learned this on the day that Trump said to congressional leaders that he would’ve won the popular vote if it wasn’t for 3-5 million voting illegally, a false proposition. But if you want to partake of the goodies that his administration has to offer, you'd better believe it.

A National Day of Patriotic Devotion seems like an import from North Korea. Maybe it is an import from North Korea.

It occurred to me this evening, while watching The Watchmen, that I had actually written a poem in the voice of a Trumplike character, a Twitler obsessed with his own prowess, sexual and otherwise. I'd written it back in the late 90s, at the dawn of the internet age. Twitter was very far away, but the ability to web surf, and by doing so seemingly glide carefree over the surface of the earth, was already there.

Cyberconservative Nightflight

My baby and I fly over the business
district in my secret airplane.
I know the server down there, I say
As we fly over the mayor’s favorite restaurant.

 His name’s Bill, the great grandson of Georgia slaves.
You see him down there on the patio?
He’s the one carrying lobster tail and foie gras
to the mayor’s table.

 It’s been two years to the day the mayor
put down the riot.  If you ask Bob
he’d call it “The Uprising.” If you axe Bob
it tears him apart inside to be the one

 kissing the tight ass of the mayor.
I tell my baby somebody has to do it
and that somebody may as well be Uncle Bob.
As I’m making this point, the ground

 gives way from under us. Below:
the vast starlit ocean.  Its waves lick
the shoreline like Bob’s tongue
in the mayor’s asshole.

 Baby, I say, the degenerate masses
can’t touch us: wealth and privilege
let us glide over the world’s surface
Don’t you forget this. 

As I turn the plane to a vertical ascent
the G forces bring baby’s lips
to my crotch.  Which illustrates this point:
some go up in life, the others go down.

January 22.

Today I’m changing the this work back to a working title, Trump in Indianapolis, and abandoning the title The Twitler Diaries, at least temporarily. When I thought up this title, I quickly did an internet search and found only one listing for it: alongside a cartoon drawing of a blue bird wearing a Nazi armband. So while the title wasn’t original, I could find no evidence online that it was ever associated with Trump.  But I never thought it was a fantastic, terrific term for the newly inaugurated president, whose anti-immigrant language evoked Nazism and whose most effective vehicle for expounding his views was Twitter.

It was too good a term to remain unconnected to Trump for long, however: browsing online, I spotted a great piece of agitprop art: The billboard was being carried around the protest march in Washington. It’s subject is Trump, though, a detailed depiction of Trump wearing a Hitlerian mustache over the moniker “TWITLER."  It's a billboard evoking the line-drawing simplicity of the ubiquitous Obama “HOPE” poster. There's a dark blue on blue hue backdrop (red, I think, would’ve been more effective.)  It's provenance seems to come from the Baltimore Sun. In a sense, the internet is something of a global mind: it knows what we're all thinking.  

In any case, Trump has certainly made an appearance in my writing over the past year: I've written about the president in my the NUVO visual blog that I write after every First Friday art walk.  One of my blogs went on a little too long about Ilma Gore's pastel on paper portrait "Make America Great Again" that depicts the Donald naked, with a micropenis. 

In this blog I also mentioned "Saturn Devouring his Son" by Francesco de Goya, a painting which seemed to embody the moment in American political life.  

And Trump has also been the subject of one of the Indy artists who I have reviewed recently. I'm talking about Walter Lobyn Hamilton, whose mediums are largely vinyl records and album covers in his assemblages. These give his work (you might have seen some of it on the set of the Fox Series Empire) a unique character. “The medium is everything” he wrote in his artist’s statement for The Breaks that showed at the University of Indianapolis this fall.

This statement glosses over his skill required to create his unique portraiture — painstakingly fixing shards of vinyl onto his canvases — but conceptually this statement is beyond dispute.

His art, in fact, seems particularly relevant to this moment in history. His work is also an affirmation of Black culture. Many of his subjects are African-American musical icons who have shaped American music (although the Beatles and Dylan are among his subjects too). Take, for example, his “Louis Armstrong.” Into Satchmo’s vinyl cheeks — against a blue background — he intricately carves the names of music styles and musicians that run the gamut of American popular music. A number of his portraits of women seem equally innovative.

“Der Donald,” fashioned out of vinyl and various bits of Nazi propaganda pressed into Plexiglas, is a departure from both his usual style, and subject matter. 

Der Donald by Walter Lobyn Hamilton

"It’s the reflective nature of the Plexiglas medium that lends a stunning aspect to this work," I wrote in my review. "That is, it’s impossible not to see your own reflection in it when standing before it. Whether Trump reflects your values, is another matter entirely."

Some day soon there will be an exhibition of Donald Trump-themed artwork 

But back to matters at hand: I’m periodically posting my updates to the blog online. And I got this response, from Igor, a Russian preacher friend of my ex-wife Katya, who is as fervently religious in some respects as Igor, but fairly liberal politically. (I removed his last name out of privacy concerns.)  Whenever Igor and I got into discussions on either politics or religion - actually for him there’s no separating the two - an argument would always ensue. Once we were discussing The Left Behind novels, which foretold a removal of the third holiest site in Islam, the Dome of the Rock, and its replacement with a Third Temple in Jerusalem. For anyone unfamiliar with the Middle East, this would be a prescription for a total war that would make the Syrian Civil War look like a wedding brawl among drunken in-laws. But unfortunately, there were quite a few religious Jews inside and outside Israel who were in favor of this replacement.  Some had even unsuccessfully plotted to blow it up in the 80s.

I wrote a poem in 2003 about the evangelical supporters of the most retrograde elements in Israeli society, who have no problem ushering in Armageddon.  Among the most fervent supporters are some of those who call themselves Messianic Jews, who have fundamentalist Christian beliefs but observe some Jewish practices.  

The Third Temple
(after the Dispensationalists)

will be built where the dome is now.
It’s best not to ask exactly how
this will happen but it will.
Just read the prophecies in Daniel.

The Messianic Rabbis will proclaim the word
over Judean radio to the unredeemed herd
from the temple’s highest floor: Praise God
the unbelievers will either die or convert.

The priests, dressed in robes of purple,
will perform blood sacrifice 24/7 to the hymns
of the Yeshua Choir assembled in the atrium
and aisle.  Choir practice for heaven, they

call it. The choir will sing out in praise
of the mosque’s destruction, an act in
which the righteous will have played a part.  Sing
out your innocence in the Lord’s eyes!

The temple coffers will overflow
with conversion funds for the unsaved hoi poloi.
Pat Robertson and Gershom Solomon
will hobnob on the balcony that overlooks a Jerusalem

no longer subdivided into quarters.
The faithful, meanwhile, will cash in their dollars
in the monetary exchange for holy shekels
for use in the animal markets and gift shops

And the same elements in favor of a Third Temple I suspect are also in favor of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which would have the practical effect of upending the peace process, what remains of it, and destabilizing the government of Jordan next door.

Anyway I had responded to a FB posting of Igor’s online, previously, to his praising Trump as if he were the coming of the Messiah, and now he was trolling me back after I’d published my most recent installment to FB.

          Igor: Dan you said you pray for His impeachment instead of bullying the guy :)
          Dan: I don't have the power to bully him. Just my observations. If the jackboot fits...
  1. Igor: Yeah you do, it is called the freedom of speech... Dan Olga and I always respected you as a great Jewish personality, it is not you when you mock and invite disgrace into your life! Always remember that disgrace invites disgrace, nothing else!
  2. Dan: I don't like your definition of me by my ethnicity, I think you ought to seriously consider the great harm that Trump is doing to our country and this conversation between you and me is going nowhere
  3. Igor: Sorry Dan I touched on your ethnicity! But you know us we love Israel and we stand with Israel! At the Inauguration I saw several rabbis praying the blessing over Trump, do they know about the great harm the guy is doing to the country? Also, it is my understanding the new President stands with Israel!

My ex’s religious beliefs were more or less aligned with his although her politics are much more liberal: she’s a fan of neither Putin nor Trump.  

But this exchange got me to thinking: I don’t want to just preach to the choir with my writing. I want to write about the Trump effect on Indianapolis and the arts in Indianapolis, which I cover for NUVO, and I want my writing to reach as wide a range of people as possible.  I also want to try to leave room for just a small window of hope: who knows, maybe Ivanka will get to him on issues like Global Warming. Not very likely.  

I do know this: Trump projects onto his enemies his own worst characteristics. But I’m sure I project on him too.  He is a giant Id; his resentments, his schadenfreude, his pleasure in taking revenge: surely, I too have felt such feelings. I also hope I have the maturity and fortitude to overcome such feelings myself.  And in that spirit, I will open that (small) window of hope in my heart, as it were. For the sake of those I love, and for myself, I have no choice.

Naomi, not impressed by the Museum of Modern Art, San Diego (La Jolla) in 2015

January 21, 2017

Woman's march today in downtown Indy. I was stuck at home, immersed in various writing projects. But I felt bad that I couldn't get downtown and plug in someway into what's become an international movement. Even in Antarctica, there were women marching, or at least holding signs, against a skyline dominated by melting glaciers. They stood in solidarity with women on six other continents, protesting the pussy-grabber in chief and his twisted, ice-melting libido.

My daughter had a unique spin on the day's festivities. She had been walking in downtown Carmel, within walking distance from our house, with her friends Carmen and Jill (whose parents are Trump supporters.)

"It was a historical movement, I had to walk around," she said.

But Carmel is about 12 miles away from downtown Indy, where the march/protest was taking place. Then there is something of a cultural divide between Carmel and Indy, beginning with the fact that most Carmelites are Trump supporters.(Hamilton County voters went for him by 56% on Nov 8) I suppose I should teach her that it's not enough to feel general sympathy for a cause: you have to act. But as her father, I'm setting the best example, glued to the screen, writing stuff like this. At least she's aware of what's going on; Trump's bigotry and nastiness has definitely disturbed my Naomi, who is making more and more appearances in my creative work as she gets older.

Here' s a little something I wrote after we saw the new Star Wars movie Rogue One several weeks ago.

Rogue One Dream

I saw the film again with my daughter Naomi
on the heels of Trump’s coronation.
We were watching Jyn Erso
climb the tower on Scarif
through our 3D glasses.

After the movie, Naomi and I lit
the first Hanukkah candle:  
we celebrated a rebellion built on hope   
while Imperial cruisers hovered overhead.

Jared Kushner was sitting on one end of our table.
On the other sat Jerry Seinfeld.
“Jared, you’re killing me,” Seinfeld said.
Just then Kushner aimed his blaster at the comedian
and fired five times.
It was the first shot, actually, that killed him.  

Kushner reholstered, sipped his Manischewitz.
“The gag lines in Star Wars: A New Hope
were very Borscht Belt,” he said.
“But we’re so past that now.”

Meanwhile, in the tower, an orange hairpiece
descended onto the Donald.
“Let it it be an arms race,” he tweeted:
I saw the text flash on my Android.
My Android was wearing a Nazi armband.

Irony. It wasn’t just holding court
at this Hanukkah table.
It was like Kushner wanted us to appreciate
jokes by Ted Nugent or Goebbels
where the dread trumps the humor.

Like most dictators and mobsters, I'm sure that Trump's very charming in person, unlike, say, Darth Vader. My father says that he met Trump, back in the early 80s when he was in Manhattan for some reason. When he walked into the train shop, he asked my dad about some of the 40s and 50s era Lionels that were being sold under glass. Mr. C.B. Grossman is something of an expert on model trains, particularly the Lionel brand; he had quite the setup before he got tired of it and sold it off in the mid-80s. He answered a few of Trump's questions before he was ushered out by his handlers.

"Let's get the Donald outta here," he heard them say.

My dad, by the way, has a way of running into famous people. He had the foresight to enlist in the National Public Health Service as a doctor before he could be drafted into Vietnam. In 1965 he became a prison doctor in McNeil Island, in the Puget Sound off the Washington coast. Sr. Asst. Surgeon was his title. That's where he became friends with Alvin (Creepy) Karpis from the Ma Barker gang. The Barker gang consisted of Ma Barker, her four sons, her lover Arthur Dunlop, and Karpis. The gang became notorious in the 1930s with a series of holdups and kidnappings that put it on the FBIs most wanted list. After getting out of prison, he retired to Spain's famed Sun Coast, where he died four years later. My dad thinks that Karpis got a get out of prison free card because he had certain information on FBI Director Herbert Hoover's sexual proclivities. It's a pretty sure thing that this particular dossier didn't include anything on Russian prostitutes pissing on each other. But I'm sure that his sex life was a helluva lot more interesting than it was portrayed in J. Edgar, the recent movie by Clint Eastwood. (Leonardo DiCaprio's elderly version of the FBI Director comes across more like a Muppet than an human being.)

I mention all this because Karpis made a gift of a bas-relief depicting precisely detailed seagulls and water-lilies and seagulls against a blue background (copper on blue-painted plaster) that Karpis either made by himself or commissioned someone else to create. It's quite a beautiful work that my dad gave to me; the frame is missing because Naomi managed to knock it off the wall when she was a toddler, and the frame broke into four parts.

Work given by Alvin Karpis to my father in 1966

Karpis isn't the only American crime icon that my dad ran into during the service. While working one day, a certain Charles Manson sat himself down before my father; little did he know know that he was being had by his fellow doctors who had admitted him. Perhaps Manson had heard of my dad's freewheeling dispensing of placebos, which were very popular in the prison economy, right up there with Vaseline and cigarettes. Manson's complaint?
"I have a light in my eyes," he said.

A few months afterwards, Manson was released. This was four years before the murder of Sharon Tate that put Manson and his gang on the national stage. But wait... there's more. My dad also claims to have picked up Patty Hearst when she was standing in the rain with a bag of groceries in suburban Philadelphia in the mid-1970s.

Although I don't have stories to compare with my dad's, I've run into a few famous people in my life. One of them just so happens to be a prospective Transportation Secretary for Trump's cabinet, Elaine Chao. A decade or so I wrote a poem about her. In 1991, as Peace Corps Director, she paid a visit to Niger, West Africa in 1991 when I was a trainee there. I didn't find her particularly charming at the time. But neither did I take offense to her, despite the fact that she was so obviously a fish out of water, as it were. Shortly after she became Secretary of Labor for George W. Bush, I wrote this poem:

The Visit
(Hamdallaye, Niger)

Elaine Chao, the Peace Corps Director,
paid us a visit at the training site
in the fall of ‘91.  Petite, well-coiffed, 
dressed in a smart business suit, she spoke
of her emigration from Taiwan 
to the United States as an 8-year-old.
Her international heritage,
she said, gave her broad insight 
into the Peace Corps experience. 
But her delivery seemed off-key somehow.

At noon, under an overcast sky filled 
with harmattan dust, the villagers 
staged a parade for her. Hausa riders 
dressed in their finest gowns strutted 
by on their horses.  Griots lifted 
their praise above the polyrhythmic pulse 
of the talking drums.  The village chief 
presented a ram to Ms. Chao as a gift
(which she couldn’t, of course, take with her).
She handled herself graciously enough 
as she thanked the village chief 
and spoke with my fellow trainees.  
But she also gave us the impression  
that she was flying on autopilot 
with her sights set on a far horizon. 

When George W. Bush appointed Ms. Chao 
as Secretary of Labor, 
I wasn’t surprised.
Even now I can’t help but think of her visit
as a harbinger of that ill wind

Chao, who happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is Trump's nominee for Transportation Secretary and she's likely to be confirmed.  The Democrats are not going to raise any objections on this one.  She is, after all, one of Twitler's saner cabinet choices.

January 20, 2017

I began the day walking my daughter to the bus stop.  Normal complaints for a 12-year-old: her friend Giovanna and others are making her lunch table awkward. Naomi, who’s shot up 6 inches in the past year, said, “I don’t like it when they tell dirty jokes.”

And I told her, “Well, Naomi, that’s going to happen. Your friends are going to change on you.  You’ll lose some and you’ll make more. It’s all part of growing up."

Talking like that to my daughter mad me feel old.

Speaking of change. At high noon Twitler took the oath of office. Driving west on 465 I catch snippets of Trump’s speech, which hearkens back to the days of the Charles Lindbergh and the Bund, and their call for puting “America first.”  

There was his characterization of America as a wasteland of blight, inner city waste, urban crime, and drugs.

There was his smear of the “politicians” for their prosperity at the expense of the middle class and the poor.  

But how about Trump's own extortionate business practices; his M.O. of not paying his small business contractors, most of whom are probably middle class?  This is the type of trick of projection that is a hallmark of psychosis, according to psychologists. That is, Trump is blaming his perceived enemies for his own filthy ways of conducting business.

“This American carnage stops right here and right now,” I heard him saying over the radio. But here he's wrong again: the carnage is just beginning.    


I had some business to attend to at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, where Herron School of Art & Design is located. I stopped by the Tom Sachs exhibit, “This Radiant City: Paintings 2000 - 2017.” He takes iconic advertising imagery, as well as charts and government emblems and the like, and paints them in a way that you know they are handpainted.  It’s a different aesthetic, say, from the clean lines of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, in which you can almost see Andy Warhol’s blank gaze starting back at you.  If you look closely at the latex paint and palladium on plywood “Reese’s” you see thick globs of yellowsish brown in the lettering, like peanut butter.  There are other oddities like a “Recreational Dive Chair,” which is basically a recreatioanl dive chart with Hello Kitty emblems. (There’s a “Bad Kitty” emblem for when the nitrogen levels get too high.)  Twenty six paintings to show for 17 years’ work, all with a similar aesthetic. I like the playfulness of the art but there’s also something standoffish about it, as it doesn’t want you to come to close.  

I was perusing this exhibit during the second hour of Donald Trump’s presidency: I hadn’t had any desire to see the inauguration go down on television, but I wasn’t thinking that this art could in anyway assauge the dread that I was feeling.  Perhaps German Chancellor Angela Merkel felt differently as she took a tour during the opening of the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany. That’s how she opted to spend her afternoon, according to The Week.

I stopped by Tube Factory artspace later. It’s a refurbished factory building, painted purple, fronted by a flagpole flying a flag with the emblem of Indianapolis. I stopped by in the afternoon and talked to Shauta Marsh, Big Car Collective’s curator. Tube Factory was open on this day: on their large screen there were movies playing: among them Back to the Future II and Idiocracy - a movie that came out 10 years ago and seems like reality now, depicting a future ruled over by a dumbed down president ruling over a dumbed down populace.  I asked her to share her thoughts on the day.

Big Car's Tube Factory artspace in Garfield Par

“We’ve already seen his proposed budget to cut the humanities and the arts programs from federal spending,” she said, standing in front of the exhibit highlighting the life and work of African-American essayist and poet Mari Evans. “It has been a trend, a long time coming since the Reagan era. And from what I’ve heard, I was too young to recall or understand but I do recall that Reagan was a similar upset. I think great art will come out of this time that we’re getting ready to enter into. Obviously, it’s a worldwide trend because of what’s going on with Brexit and what we’re seeing in Germany. I think humans have a tendency to form tribes and cliques: there’s so many people in the world now and we’re so closely connected; I think that what’s going on in the world right now is also a response to that: people wanting to draw back from each other.  But I also think that like I said it won’t be easy for artists. Artists, especially arts organizations, who present artwork that might be critical of different, whatever his agenda is; if you have an artist who creates work that’s critical of an administration’s agenda, sometimes they’ll go after that. And we saw that happening in the 60s.”

“Does this organization get any funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?” I asked her.

“Some of our grants are funnelled down through there,” she told me.  “I believe the grant we received from the Mari mural came from the National Endowment for the Arts fund but then was given to the Indiana Arts Commission for them to spend for that bicentennial celebration.”

The mural, 60 feet high, painted by Indianapolis-based painter Alkemi, is on the side of Mass. Avenue’s Davlan Building, within site of the Kurt Vonnnegut mural.   

I wonder what Vonnegut would say about Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, hearkening back to the pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh.  


January 19, 2017

I'm at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the day before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president.  I'm now setting forth on my absolutely insane, opportunity-cost rich, time-sucking idea to write a blog to chronicle the first 100 days of Donald J. Trump (a.k.a.) Twitler)  Actually, with this particular entry acting as introduction, there will be 101 entries.

Best of America by  Derrick Burnett

I was just at an opening of an exhibition of works created by refugees with the guidance of Art of the Soul Studio, shown at Marian University.  There were supposed to be refugees there, Congolese, Syrian, or Burmese, who I could talk to.  I asked a representative from Catholic Charities, Susie Marren, who helped facilitate the art therapy sessions, whether these refugees were scared because of the particularly fucked up political situation this country finds itself in (but not in those words). No, she said, "I'm just overprotective."  She didn't want the refugees to have to respond to criticism of their artwork, she said.  Indeed the artwork was really only interesting from a sociological/art therapy standpoint, consisting of a lot of collages, and various directed art activities.

So now I have to cobble together a story based on my talks with the art therapists who facilitated the work that they have on the walls.  Not an ideal situation, but with my interviews I should be able to cobble something together for NUVO, Indy's alternative newspaper, that I write for.  I did see one particular painting of interest over at Marian, adjacent to the gallery, that does speak to the current political situation: Derrick Burnett's "Best of America," a painting which seems to treat Obama with some ambivalence, a sort of Bernie or Bust vision of America's slow decline into post-Trevon Martin white supremacist rage.  (Burnett's work can be seen on the Fox TV series empire)

Since the IMA isn't too far away from Marian I decided to hang out at the IMA afterwards, get a cup of coffee. I did just that and now I'm at the Nature Close at Hand exhibit in the Asian Wing, which, according to the wall text, "focuses on painted album leaves, hand scrolls, and fans" all decorated with Chinese calligraphy, poems, artwork.  And with a fan depicting a nature scene in your hand, nature is thus close at hand. Ha.

I wish I could read Chinese. There's just not enough time in life. I wish I could read the poems on the book plates by Wang Hui (Chinese, 1650-1717) displayed here; these wonderful book plates that feature natural scenes, a self portrait, and poems, all composed in ink. In his work the poems and the art come together.

Anyway it's good to be here in this very contemplative exhibit, but I can't get politics out of my head.  I think of Obama in his final press conference a couple of days ago saying that along the road to progress, there will be setbacks (I paraphrase) which is one way of saying that you can't have the yin without the yang: how oppositional forces in the world are complementary. Maybe that's how I'm trying to deal with the Donald, who I henceforth will refer to as Twitler.  Then again, Yin/Yang is a central construct in Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, a book that I read thirty years ago and seems prophetic now in retrospect.

Suffice to say that things don't end happily in that novel, which imagines a world where the US lost the war to the Japanese and the Germans with the US territory divided between the two victors and implies that in our particular universe hope is irrelevant.  But even a great author like Dick could not imagine the biggest Dick in the universe: the Donald, a.k.a. Twitler, who is almost certainly doing the bidding of America's biggest enemy, Vladimir Putin, when not contemplating how to fuck over his numerous enemies.  And his enemies, in his estimation, are the majority of the population of these United States.  Don't believe me?  Read Twitler's New Year's Day Tweet.

There's an exhibition here, now inaccessible due to construction, entitled "What Lies Beneath," that shows examples of artwork made with materials used to make inks and paint over the millennia. One of those materials is urine, According to one of the placards of wall text in this exhibition "Popular in Indian miniature paintings and later in European oil paintings, Indian yellow pigment was reportedly made in India by collecting urine from cattle that were fed only mango leaves," says the wall text in this exhibition.   Urine, I suppose, could be considered the poor man's gold leaf.  Then again, if certain leaked, as it were, documents are to be believed, the Donald, has a particular fondness for piss, or at least for being a spectator when its being sprayed around.

Anyway, I learned in my Facebook news feed today that the Trump administration will be eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and cutting off funding completely for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Never mind the fact that investment in the arts is one of the most cost-effective means of job creation and community revitalization around.

We may not be fucked, those of us in the arts community, but we're certainly being pissed on.