The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers

“The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so they believe they are clever as he.” — Karl Kraus

“When they go low, we go high” — Michelle Obama

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s information wars, and their interference in our democracy, especially with the last presidential election—which unfortunately propelled Donald J. Trump to be the 45th and current president of the United States—shouldn’t be the sole focus of the Democratic Party’s fixation as a cold war, while the Republican Party has its cold war with China. Here we’re again reminded of not only what George Santayana once remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but also that we’ve learned that history instructs us to explore endless possibilities to think and act differently. We should also be reminded that once upon a time after World War II, the distinction of a “hot war” and a “cold war” was imminent: a hot war was when people were fighting and dying on a massive scale as we’d experienced in WWII, which led to our deep understanding of Human’s capacity for colossal self-destruction. As a result, the two superpowers emerged with polar opposite political ideologies, capitalism in the United States and communism in the Soviet Union, which generated the Cold War to avoid direct military action, but also meant enacting proxy wars waged by surrogates (1947-1991). The rise of China as a third superpower in the last decade has led to the division between the Democratic Party of the left and Republican Party of the right becoming more extreme than ever before, at least in our lifetime.

There is no secret as to why Trump admires Putin. In fact, one can identify that while Putin is perfecting his modern authoritarian model, Trump is following an autocratic playbook of the rule of the few in the name of the many. It is first a necessity to create a big repressive apparatus that can overpower protest, as he did on June 1, 2020 (by attacking law-abiding demonstrators with tear gas and sting-ball grenades, clearing the way for him and his sycophantic supporting cast, including Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, to march across the street, from the Rose Garden to pose for a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square), re-staging “law and order” demagogy that helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968. How can we forget his Bible-toting God-and-Country awkward performance? Repressing information and attacking the press is essential to this repression apparatus. Second, cash flow is absolutely required in any form and shape, even at the expense of destroying the environment or money laundering. Third, and perhaps the most critical, is the invention of outrageous narratives that spread fear and anxiety among people. By declaring internal enemies, the immigrant population (enemies that prevent his white supremacist base from reclaiming their glorious past), Trump has created these narratives that are about grievances, with false hopes and dreams that can “Make America Great Again.” Trump is the chosen one to lead his people back to the monumental regressive desire for nostalgia.

On the eve of the recent Fourth of July, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, Trump denied his failing in mediating the worsening coronavirus pandemic while declaring a culture war diatribe against the Democratic Party what he absurdly referred to as the “new far-left fascism.” Trump, the one-dimensional man, is desperate and unable to adapt to the prevailing change in our current state of social and political life. The following are a few examples of his outrageous lies from the transcript:

  1. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”
  2. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”
  3. “This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly.”
  4. “We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.”
  5. “In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.”
  6. “Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.”
  7. “Their goal is not a better America, their goal is the end of America.”
  8. “Centuries from now, our legacy will be the cities we built, the champions we forged, the good we did, and the monuments we created to inspire us all”

etc., etc., etc., etc…

Here, I’d like to share with you all what David McCullough said in his interview to the Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln—on July 12, 2016, as they were on the verge of nominating Trump as the candidate for president of the United States:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who so admirably served his country his entire career, said there were four key qualities by which we should measure a leader: character, ability, responsibility, and experience. Donald Trump fails to qualify on all four counts. And it should be noted that Eisenhower put character first. In the words of the Ancient Greeks, character is destiny. So much of what Donald Trump’s spouts is so vulgar and far from the truth and mean-spirited; it is on that question of character especially that he does not measure up. He is unwise. He is plainly unprepared, unqualified, and it often seems, unhinged. How could we possibly put our future in the hands of such a man? […] It’s up to us, all of us—Republicans, Democrats, independents, young and old—no matter the blaring show business and the blather of campaign politics, let's pause and think and think carefully. This far-reaching all-important choice of leadership is ours to make. We’ll be held responsible. How will history judge us?

May we all be resilient, be courageous, and above all be mindful of what we can do to make changes in this world.

Yours ever, in solidarity with love and peace,

Phong H. Bui

P.S. This issue is dedicated to our beloved and admirable friend, the remarkable life and work of artist, philanthropist, designer, co-founder, and executive director of the Sharpe Walentas Studio Program, Jane Walentas (1976–2020). We’d like to send out deepest condolences to Jane’s best friend and husband David Walentas, their son Jed Walentas and his family, and extended family members and friends. Lastly, we'd like to welcome our friend Beau Willimon, an artist, a playwright and a screenwriter as a new member of the ever-productive roster of Rail legendary editor-at-large.


Phong Bui

Phong H. Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues