Newsletter 373

Published January 18, 2021
Burning down the house...

Pardon me for continuing the obsession with American politics, but after four years of madness topped off by last week’s storming of the Capitol and the rapid impeachment proceedings in the lower house, one might think Republicans could acknowledge the stark choice that confronts them. If the Senators don’t take a stand against Trumpism and reaffirm a different set of values, more in line with conventional party thinking, they will stand for nothing more than mob rule. This applies to those who still support Trump for their own opportunistic purposes – Senators Hawley and Cruz being prominent in this regard – and those who are terrified they will be harrassed and even assassinated if they vote in favour of impeachment.

Allowing for all the personal scheming and timidity, the big worry for Republicans is that if they repudiate Trump he will simply go away and start his own Trump Party, splitting the vote in the next election and handing victory to the Democrats. But if they truly believe in democracy, this is a risk they have to take. Having painted themselves into this corner with their spineless kowtowing they are obliged to deal with the consequences.

After the violent events of last week, and with the promise of more to come, it should be obvious that Trump will not suddenly begin acting like a responsible adult. When he was elected in 2016 the Republicans controlled all three branches of government, now they control none. This should be clear proof of the dangers of treating Trump as if he were the Supreme Leader. The Trump fans may be loud and violent but they remain a minority. Neither is it correct to imagine Trump has 75 million dedicated supporters because he got that many votes. Many of these voters are rusted-on Republicans who would have voted for Porky Pig if he’d been on the ticket. After last week there must be many who are reconsidering their choice.

Presuming he stays out of gaol or isn’t completely paralysed by lawsuits, citizen Trump’s first option would be to remain the kingmaker in the Republican Party, sponsoring loyalists to run for pre-selection against those who fail to show due deference to him. An entirely new party would probably suit him better (he could kit everyone out in uniforms and have marches), but he wouldn’t have the infrastructure and resources of the Republicans at his disposal any more.

Both options would be disasters for the Republicans but the bigger one would be to capitulate to Trump’s will yet again. Not only would it be a recipe for further electoral disintegration, it would turn the party into an empty shell ready to be filled with authoritarian propaganda. In the language of the B movies, the Republicans need to bite the bullet. If they don’t stand up to the mob they will only increase its power and ambition, and encourage even more outrageous acts of violence. They’ve committed enough sins to ensure their own political damnation, now they need to act swiftly to seek redemption.

In the light of all the dramatic events in America there’s a certain bathos about this week’s art column, which looks at Pat Larter: Get Arted at the Art Gallery of NSW. Pat and Dick Larter were not exactly the power couple of Australian art, but they lost no opportunity to express their thoughts about sex and politics. It’s fair to say that for the Larters sex was politics, which justified every naughty thing they could slip into a painting.

Dick was given a show at the National Gallery of Australia in 2008, and now it’s Pat’s turn – in a rather congested display crammed into a single room at the AGNSW. There are, needless to say, countless pictures of Pat spreading her legs for the camera, lots of Mail art (and “Femail Art”), grainy home movies, and the odd painting. There’s a single-mindedness about this work that could be taken for integrity, but it feels a little forced to present Pat as a feminist icon. What can’t be denied is a ribald, fearless sense of humour – and that has to be a plus.

Hold the press! I’ve just heard the Herald will be keeping this article on ice until next week, so I’m obliged to do the same. To make-up the shortfall I’ll add an essay on Alex Seton that I wrote for his November exhibition at Sullivan + Strumpf.

This week’s movie is Ammonite, a smouldering lesbian love story set on the grim, grey shores of Dorset at the beginning of the 19th century. Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, a famous fossil-hunter, with Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte Murchison, the love interest. Both women are historical figures but there is absolutely no evidence there was any romantic connection. This raises a few tricky questions, although in a post-truth world it won’t worry many viewers. Given the current obsession with identity politics, having one’s sexual preferences posthumously reassessed may count as a badge of honour.