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That painting? OMG, burn it!

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Back in the 1970s there was a (mercifully) brief movement in American “art,” the so-called “Velvet Painting” style. It was characterized by scenes, painted onto black velvet, that were kitchy and cheap. These paintings were favored by poor, country people, who lived in what we now call red counties (Wikipedia says they were “widely sold in rural America”). Of course, the purchasers didn’t buy originals, but poster reproductions, which they would hang in their livingrooms, to give a feeling of “culture.”

The most popular themes were dogs (often playing poker), although other elements of the American cultural armada also appeared: Elvis, Jesus, circus clowns, Spock from Star Trek. Velvet paintings were wildly, scathingly loathed by professional art critics and knowledgeable fans of art. A college professor was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education as calling them all that is tacky, tasteless, earnest, sentimental, worthless, simplistic, poorly crafted, unoriginal, frivolous, redundant, and common.”

Donald J. Trump’s latest contribution to the art collection of the White House is a painting. It’s not on velvet, although it might well be, for in tackiness and cheap sentimentality, it outdoes anything ever to emerge from the Velvet Painting school. I refer, of course, to the ridiculous and vain painting of Republican presidents, among whom (and clearly given the star seat) is none other than Trump himself.

In the old days, Popes and Kings commissioned vanity portraits that portrayed them heroically. Donald Trump, who fancies himself a figure of world history (much as Hitler did), has done likewise. Notice how the artist has made Trump the only figure in the painting to engage directly in eye contact with the viewer. Note, too, the brightness of his white shirt, glowing angelically amidst the somber browns, blues and blacks of the other presidents (except for Ike’s golf shirt, a sickly mustard-yellow). Even Lincoln is dark, shadowed and shown from behind, gazing at Trump with what can only be Pence-like admiration.

What are we to make of such grossness?

Of course, it’s in keeping with Trump’s self-aggrandizing style. This is a man who already has declared himself “the greatest president God ever created” and “the greatest president in the history of the United States,” and who was described by one of his shills in the Senate, the rightwing Mormon Orrin Hatch, as “the greatest president in American history.”

Move over, George Washington! Get outtahere, Abe Lincoln! Drop dead, FDR!

Imagine how embarrassing it must be for a world figure visiting the White House to be given a tour by the president himself. Stopping before his new painting, Trump beams with pride.

“Isn’t that something?” he says.

The visitor—perhaps president of another country—tries not to be rude. “Yes, quite unusual,” he mutters.

“I had it commissioned by a very great American artist. I think he really captured my personality. Don’t you?”

“Undoubtedly,” the foreign president replies. “Quite so.” The visitor can’t wait to tell his friends how weird the moment was. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says later, laughing with them over drinks. “He was so pompous, so serious. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. He really believes he’s in the same league as Lincoln!”

“Incredible,” his friends nod. “Such a foolish man.” “So deluded,” adds one of them. “Dangerous.”

Well, here we are, a demagogue in the Oval Office, conceited, megalomaniacal, delusional. Other presidents, no matter how great they thought themselves to be in their private moments, at least had the gracious modesty to not brag and boast. Not Trump. “Modesty” as a virtue comes nowhere near him. Nor does it come close to those around him. The impudent sons, Eric and Donald Junior. The arrogant son-in-law, Jared. The vapid daughter, Ivanka. The trophy wife, whining about how “bullied” she is, this pampered plaything of a cheating plutocrat. A modest billionaire would not have bought Mar-a-Lago, as vulgar a monument to self-glorification as exists in America. Who would buy Mar-a-Lago? Someone of means, obviously, but also someone with very low self-esteem, the kind of person who thinks that people will be impressed by the size of his possessions and not the content of his character.

Donald J. Trump has no character. He is indecent; even Republicans know it. The first thing a Democratic president should do, when she steps into the White House, is order that awful painting burned to ashes. Unless, that is, Trump takes it with him when he’s thrown out of office. He can always hang it in some dreadful room in Mar-a-Lago and reminisce about his glory years, while the rest of the country does its best to forget he ever existed.

 

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