A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece arguing in favor of Trump’s aborted threat to defund the federal arts apparatus. Like so many conservatives who preceded him, Trump didn’t deliver on this promise and the progressive outrage mob was placated for at least five full seconds. I stand behind the argument I made in the piece, but the recent decision in San Francisco to destroy Victor Arnautoff’s New Deal era George Washington mural prompted a reappraisal of the underlying assumptions of my original argument. Specifically, the possibility that a publicly funded work of art portaying Washington in a less than heroic light holds value in a world of indiscriminate cultural destruction.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the San Francisco city council voted to allocate $600k in taxpayer money to destroy a mural that was commissioned by FDR’s Works Progress Administration and painted by a communist. Why? Because it’s a painful reminder to San Francisco’s Oppressed POCs that AmeriKKKa subjugated and murdered indigenous and brown people, you disgusting bigot. DUH.
For anyone with a rightward perspective, this is yet another moment of vindication and schadenfreude. The self-proclaimed champions of publicly funded art, and the guardians of culture itself by extension, who once celebrated this piece as a triumph of what enlightened and progressive government can achieve have done a full 180. Now, they want to destroy what is presently condemned by the #WOKE proletariat as a symbol of AmeriKKKa’s irredeemable wickedness. Because what else would you expect? Such is the nature of the #SocialJustice ratchet effect.
Let’s pause to do a brief recap and allow ourselves to take in the fullness of the cognitive dissonance. Here we have a mural painted by a communist which views Washington’s legacy through the highly parsimonious lens of Marxist historical revisionism. In other words, it’s a view of Washington designed to emphasize the oppression and misery versus the heroic achievements. This piece was commissioned by FDR’S Works Progress Administration and funded with federal tax dollars yet is now officially Counterrevolutionary Hate Speech according to San Francisco’s #WOKE Revolutionary Commissars. The layers of irony boggle the imagination. Arnautoff’s mural doubtless had numerous detractors both conservative and radical at its inception and since its installment. Regardless, it was piece funded by taxpayers presumably to commemorate both the New Deal and Washington for posterity, but is now being destroyed at taxpayer expense.
On one hand, it perfectly validates the case against publicly funded art. When art is funded by taxpayers it can’t avoid being politicized and becomes fodder for the fickle winds of contemporary sentiment. In this case, yesterday’s progressivism isn’t progressive enough for today’s revolutionaries. Case closed. If you think we’ve already entered the 9th circle of Clown World hell, think again. For some on the radical Left, this is seen either as bourgeois oppression of communist culture or an excuse to double down on revolutionary goals!
But let’s take a step back and consider the magnitude of this loss in the wake of today’s neverending slow motion Cultural Revolution. Regardless of your opinion of the NEA, FDR or the painting itself, I invite you to consider that this was an attempt, however niggardly, at canonizing Washington and his legacy for all Americans. Subsequently, it can rightfully be viewed as a contribution to America’s cultural heritage, and by extension, a source of national pride. In contrast to the Left’s overt attempts to troll conservatives with taxpayer money with pieces like “Piss Christ” or Mapplethorpe’s Corcoran Gallery exhibit, Arnautoff’s piece had enough of a veneer of earnestness that any American could, in theory, take a small measure of pride in our first POTUS. It is more likely that the mural was yet another way for spiteful leftists to troll conservatives by forcing them to fund communist propaganda, but for the sake of argument, let’s take the most charitable interpretation of the original intent and grant that this effort was animated by a sense of real national pride. I concede that it’s a stretch of imagination, but let’s give it a shot.
The Left has been carrying out a slow motion Cultural Revolution for the past couple years. In contrast to yesterday’s liberals who could at least pretend that they cared about expressions and symbols of national pride, contemporary progressives make no effort to conceal their utter disdain for America. Whether it’s the idiotic preening of Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick, the demolition of Confederate statues or the routine flag burnings, these acts of vandalism are the acts of cultural destruction one expects from totalitarian ideologues who wish to erase all vestiges of national unity and pride. It’s behavior we saw in Mao’s regime, the Khmer Rouge, the Bolsheviks, the Jacobins as well as their Islamic counterparts in ISIS and Boko Haram. It’s a steady erosion of the past to pave the way for another Year Zero.
People want and crave heroic ideals and individuals who embodied these ideals. In contrast to just about every other nation, America is young country built on what were believed to be pure and noble philosophical abstractions completely divorced from metaphysics and theology. However, people do not follow abstractions. They follow leaders who best embody heroic ideals. This is precisely why America’s founders are idealized in works of art, national symbols and monuments. Despite their human foibles and errors in judgment, America’s founders are intentionally romanticized for the express purpose of concretizing American ideals and binding the citizenry together in their preservation for posterity.
Unfortunately, it is the spirit of negation at the core of American republicanism that makes the destruction of the Arnautoff mural both a bitter loss and an inevitability. Ideally, a publicly funded work of art would be something that would represent a universal and timeless ideal which upholds a classical standard of beauty. One would hope that such a project would be borne of a genuine spirit of national pride and would inspire unity for generations to come. However, the very possibility of either universal timeless ideals or objective aesthetics are impossible in the post-Enlightenment worldview. The current decision is likely the exact outcome the painting was intended to produce.
For the the communist, the only ideal he sanctifies is perpetual revolution. Despite America itself being a product of revolutionary ideals, the communist sees only bourgeois subjugation of the various proletariat underclass groups he chooses to recognize for the purpose of advancing his own political power. The communist is not an aberration of American republicanism. He is inextricably linked to the post-Enlightenment dialectic. A society which purports to uphold a free marketplace of ideas has to allow people who only seek to destroy and undermine the very order that allows them to pursue their absurd and nihilistic jihad. After decades of propaganda which consistently casts the leftist rebel as the beleaguered underdog desperately struggling to be given his fair hearing in the court of public opinion, it has finally reached its logical conclusion in the unfortunate destruction of what was already a flawed memorial to America’s first President.