Friday, January 05, 2018

Grand Opportunity

Interviewed Friday morning on "The TodayShow," "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff was asked about his credibility and responded "my credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point."

Perhaps? Mr. Wolff is being too generous. Donald J. Trump, at many and varied times both attacked and praised as a nationalist and populist, is a world-class liar- and a fake, phony, and fraud.

Or maybe he's not, and in the next 24 hours we'll know with confidence whether his image, crucial to his electoral success, as a populist and nationalist is legitimate. Henry Grabar explains that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, NY

announced on Thursday it would start charging mandatory admission fees to out-of-state visitors, a policy change that will provide revenue for the Met and bring the museum’s business model in line with its global peers. It will also deprive New York of one of its most extraordinary, egalitarian traditions, a rare offering that had lingered from the city’s fading commitment to common public life.

The Met, whose 7 million annual visitors make it the second-most popular art museum on Earth after the Louvre, has long wanted to make more money from admissions. The museum says out-of-staters account for more than half of its annual attendance. (New York state residents and students from around the region will continue to pay what they wish to enter the nation’s largest art museum; admission for children under 12 remains free.) It wasn’t just about making ends meet; it was a matter of principle. “What is it about art that it shouldn’t be paid for?” the former Met director Philippe de Montebello asked in 2002....

In a letter published on Thursday, Met President and CEO Daniel Weiss put a more pragmatic spin on it: The Met needs money. The museum has struggled financially in recent years, running up a $40 million deficit that forced layoffs of 90 employees last year and the downscaling of a planned $600 million new wing. Critics say that under Thomas Campbell, who resigned as director in February of last year, the museum had spent recklessly, seduced by visions of new wings, new art, and new donors.

Weiss argues that his museum does not derive most of its revenue from government and is “the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system," It's unlikely that charging visitors- who currently are asked to make a donation-will greatly cut into its attendance because

No one would contend that a tour of the Met is not worth $25 or that most international visitors, who account for 37 percent of the museum’s attendance, could not afford it. Museum directors and their allies have often said their institutions possess what economists call a low “elasticity of demand,” meaning that price hikes generally don’t drive visitors away.

However, Grabar argues

This may be true and good for globetrotters, and perhaps the Met will still bring in 7 million visitors next year. But the person the museum ought to be trying to get inside is not someone already determined to be there. It’s precisely those who might be turned off by a $25 ticket who are the Met’s perfect audience: the young woman visiting her sister who is not sure if she can afford it, the New Jersey commuter who doesn’t know if he even likes this stuff. The Met has always offered itself to those people, in part because its astounding array of treasures in such close proximity—not just art, but armor, and the choir screen of a Spanish church, and the fa├žade of an 1825 bank building, and an entire Egyptian temple—can melt any skeptic’s resistance. But also because, being free, all you had to lose was your time.

Fewer domestic travelers- even those from Trump's allegedly beloved heartland- will be able to afford to visit one of the nation's cultural treasures. Grabar continues:

Enduring the stern looks of the ticket-sellers when you handed over your $2 was the price you paid to share this sneaky, radical bargain with a friend from out of town. It’s too bad that the Met will no longer mean the same thing to visitors as it does to New Yorkers, because no city is quicker to make you one of its own than this one. However diminished from days when the subway was a nickel and CUNY was free and the Met didn’t“suggest” anything but the city’s tremendous public assets, New York’s occasional largesse was never something that had to be earned. And while the museum remains all but free for New Yorkers, whatever their vintage, the formality of an ID check nevertheless functions as a little marker to remind that some visitors belong and some do not.

The Met, Grabar understands, "will no longer mean the same thing to visitors as it does to New Yorkers" while "the formality of an ID check" will serve "as a little marker to remind that some visitors belong and some do not."  A cultural institution freely available to all individuals- who would attend alongside New Yorkers- will become less available to Americans from Durham or Dubuque or Delavan, Wisconsin.

Normally, this would not concern a President of the United States. But inveterate tweeter Donald J. Trump is not a normal president. He made his millions or billions in New York City, NY, where he maintains his principal residence. His favorite person and her husband are Manhattan people,where they lived in opulence and Jared made his own big bucks in real estate.

And now a repository of high culture located in Democratic New York City in Democratic New York State has chosen to favor New York citizens over those of Southfield, Michigan or Scranton, Pennsylvania. They will be asked for identification and charged admission on the same basis as visitors from any country.

This would be a perfect opportunity for a president who once claimed to represent "Pittsburgh, not Paris" to tweet out his concern.

Or it would be if President Trump were a populist or even a genuine nationalist.  But that was all for popular consumption.  In "Fire and Fury," Wolff notes that when the President signed the initial Executive Order promulgating the travel ban

The result was an emotional outpouring of horror and indignation from liberal media, terror in immigrant communities, tumultuous protests at major airports, confusion throughout the government, and, in the White House, an inundation of opprobrium from friends and family. What have you done? You have to undo this! You’re finished before you even start! But Bannon was satisfied. He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between Trump’s America and that of liberals. Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?

“Errr … that’s why,” said Bannon. “So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.

Serving the most sensitive President in American history, presidential advisor Steve Bannon was pleased "the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot."  "That was the way," Wolff wrote, "to crush the liberals."

Not only was crushing liberals by enraging them the primary objective of Trump's chief campaign strategist, it was the guiding principle of the Trump campaign. It was not populism or even nationalism, though the latter played a role: it was to exhibit a visceral hatred of the people Republicans hate, thereby stirring up more animosity to exploit. Given a chance to show a genuine populist or even nationalist spirit, the President will pass.

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