The U.S. capital has a consistency, a uniformity that defies age and exudes authority. But it shouldn’t snuff out artistic creativity.
WASHINGTON – There’s a draft executive order circulating in the White House these days that’s unrelated to immigration, de-regulation, education, health care or any of the usual hot-button issues of Donald Trump’s presidency.
This executive order is about architecture. It wants federal buildings – courthouses, agency headquarters, museums – built in the neo-classical style that has come to characterize this city over two centuries. This is the style that has made the capital look like the seat of the American Empire.
In its architecture, Washington has a consistency, a uniformity and a beauty. It defies age. The motif emerged in the 19th century before the United States was a global power, signalling its ambition. When America is no longer an empire, it will recall its glory, as Vienna does Austria.
The Capitol, the Supreme Court, the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, are all magnificent, incandescent, other-worldly. They inspire awe. Clad in white marble, pillared or domed, in rigorous proportion, they evoke ancient civilization. They make Washington into Athens, Rome or Disneyland on the Potomac.
On one level, this proposed executive order is sensible. In a world of brutalism and ugliness, why not invest in the grace and elegance that gratify our esthetic sense?
The executive order making its way to Trump’s desk in the Oval Office is called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” Written by the National Civic Art Society, a non-profit organization founded in 2002, it laments “bizarre, hideous, disorienting” contemporary architecture.
It says the government “has largely stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.” It wants architecture to “once again inspire respect instead of bewilderment or repugnance.”
On one level, this proposed executive order is sensible. In a world of brutalism and ugliness, why not invest in the grace and elegance that gratify our esthetic sense? Why not believe in beauty?
That’s one way of looking at it: an effort to resist the ugliness of modernism that lives in today’s architecture like a disfiguring gene. Washington has it in some recent concrete boxes and steel palaces of startling institutional dullness.
This executive order celebrates neo-classicism. New buildings would echo the motif, as does the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, a massive federal office complex near the White House that opened in 1998. It sits organically in its environment. So does the Embassy of Canada, in the shadow of the Capitol, on Pennsylvania Avenue. Isn’t that something to cheer?
Actually, no. The problem with the draft executive order is that it leaves little room for variety, novelty or originality. It wants to impose a policy on federal buildings that the American Institute of Architects, one of many critics, calls “one size fits all.”
The problem with this policy is that it would have made impossible other examples of risk-taking design. These include the National Museum of the American Indian, designed by Canada’s Douglas Cardinal, undulating in sandstone on the National Mall. Or the stunning bronze iron lattice work of the nearby National Museum of African American History and Culture, inspired by the work of slaves.
Both are distinct, going far beyond neo-classicism. Both would not have happened if traditionalists had their way – but then again, nor would the J. Edgar Hoover Building, as repugnant in style as the legacy of Hoover himself. This is the danger of artistic freedom.
This draft order smacks of authoritarianism. As Blair Kamin, the award-winning architectural critic of the Chicago Tribune suggests, it is artistic autocracy.
It means that government dictates style, not just standards. At one level, it should mandate style (to prevent, for example, the kind of atrocity represented by the expansion of Ottawa’s Château Laurier.) But it can go too far, as Mussolini and Hitler did in fascist design in Rome and Berlin.
Presidents have always brought ideas of style: Thomas Jefferson designed Monticello; Jack and Jackie Kennedy remade the Rose Garden and re-created Air Force One, the presidential airplane.
In Donald Trump’s America, a new design standard suggests something else: the strongman extending his authority over cultural life. The tastemaker-in-chief who wants movies to be more like Gone with the Wind now turns his attention to architecture.
As he says, we’ll see how things turn out.
Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.
ALSO IN OPINION
Former British Columbia premier Christy Clark endorsed Jean Charest
OTTAWA — Former British Columbia premier Christy Clark on Wednesday endorsed Jean Charest to be the next leader of the federal Conservatives at a time when she says the party is racing to the extremes.
She also expressed choice words for a pitch from a front-runner in Alberta’s United Conservative Party leadership contest who has vowed to introduce legislation to ignore federal laws.
“I think that is bats–t crazy,” Clark said of Danielle Smith’s proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act.
Clark’s comment followed an impassioned speech she delivered in Edmonton to a room of conservatives gathered to discuss the need for the federal party to stick closer to the political centre.
The event was hosted by Centre Ice Conservatives, an advocacy group that formed at the start of the Tories’ leadership contest to encourage candidates to focus on issues like the economy. It argues that championing affordability measures resonate with mainstream Canadians more than others like fighting pandemic-related health restrictions, which has become a rallying cry for many across conservative movements.
Its co-founder Rick Peterson ran in the party’s 2017 leadership contest and has said the new group will not endorse a candidate in the current race.
Clark was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s event and only waded into commenting on the contest to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as UCP leader when asked to by an audience member.
Clark, who formerly led the centre-right BC Liberal Party, spoke for roughly 20 minutes about the need for political leaders to focus on what Canadians have in common and not stoke division.
She accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dividing the country when he said the views of the “Freedom Convoy” protesters who blockaded roads and highways last winter to oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates were unacceptable.
Clark said politicians who divide create opportunities for others to do the same.
“Now we’re watching the Conservative Party of Canada make its race for the extremes to play to the very edges of the political divide,” she said.
“I think some days their rhetoric is just as bad or even worse.”
Her comments come as party members have less than one month left to cast their ballots to pick the next leader.
The race, which began in February, has been a fight for the party’s soul and future direction.
The main rivalry has been between longtime Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who is running on a broad campaign message of “freedom,” and ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest, who has condemned the convoy as breaking the rule of law.
Of the 678,000 Conservative members able to vote in the race, the party reports that around 174,000 ballots have been returned ahead of the deadline Sept.6.
Speaking Wednesday, Clark said she recently received her ballot in the mail and will vote in the contest.
“I think Jean Charest would be a fantastic prime minister,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
No politics in election map revision, co-chairs say – CBC.ca
Two former politicians co-chairing a commission redrawing New Brunswick’s provincial election map say there’ll be no politics involved in their work.
Former Liberal premier Camille Thériault and former Progressive Conservative MP Roger Clinch say they will stick to the letter of the law that requires them to come up with 49 new ridings roughly equal in population.
“Our mandate is very, very clear. It had absolutely nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with gerrymandering,” Thériault said Wednesday as the commission launched its website. “We’re there to follow the piece of legislation that has been put in place.
“We will continue to look straight forward and not think or talk politics, but do what’s best for New Brunswickers within the legislation that we are under.”
Provincial law requires that an independent commission be appointed every 10 years to redraw the 49 electoral districts in the province to reflect changing population numbers.
The new map will take effect for the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024, and will have to shift some districts to account for rapid urban growth in the province.
In June, Green MLA Kevin Arseneau alleged the process would involve political trade-offs between the co-chairs to craft ridings beneficial to their former parties.
The three parties in the legislature were asked to suggest names for the commission, but the Green nominees were not chosen because the party refused to have their choices vetted by Premier Blaine Higgs’s office, as the PC and Liberal names were.
“The people on the commission are all very well-respected people, I think, and I don’t think there’s any bias on anyone’s part toward any particular party,” Clinch said.
The six-member commission will hold 12 in-person public meetings and two virtual sessions to sound out New Brunswickers about the new map starting Aug. 23 and continuing to Sept. 15.
“People will dictate to us what they think it should be,” Clinch said. “We have rules and regulations to follow.”
After the first round of meetings, they’ll draft a proposed map that they’ll then take out to a second round of consultations before coming up with a final version within 90 days.
The law requires the commission to calculate the average number of voters in each riding, known as the “electoral quotient.” Thériault said the figure they’ll use is 11,714.
In the new map, each riding’s number of voters must be “as close as reasonably possible” to the quotient, though the commission can deviate by up to 15 per cent to accommodate what are called “communities of interest” and other factors.
In “extraordinary circumstances” such as the need to ensure fair linguistic representation, the commission can deviate from the quotient by up to 25 per cent.
The last redrawing included the creation of Memramcook-Tantramar, which prompted complaints from francophones in the new riding that they were losing their majority-francophone constituency.
At the time, the law allowed only a five-per cent deviation from the average, so the new commission now has more leeway to put the village in a mostly francophone riding.
“We will probably hear from the people in Memramcook,” Thériault said. “But I’m not prejudging how they feel 10 years later.”
Thériault said ideally he’d like to “tighten” some of the sprawling rural ridings in the province, such as Southwest Miramichi–Bay du Vin, which can take more than two hours to drive from end to end.
He also mentioned the expanded footprint of St. Mary’s First Nation in Fredericton, divided between two provincial ridings, as an example of the “housekeeping” the commission may do when it considers “communities of interest.”
But he said the commission isn’t going in with any fixed assumptions and will be guided by the goal of getting as close as possible to the quotient.
“What we’re saying is that we will take into consideration what New Brunswickers have to say,” he said.
“We will be very transparent. And the ultimate goal here is to try and achieve the 11,714 electors for a riding, which we know probably is impossible to do.”
Last weekend newly elected Liberal Leader Susan Holt said she would wait to see the new map before deciding where she’ll run in the next provincial election. In 2018 Holt was defeated as a candidate in Fredericton South by Green Leader David Coon.
Thériault said those considerations won’t matter to the commission.
“The redrawing of the electoral map will not be done to provide seats to anyone or any party,” he said. “It will be done in the best interests of New Brunswick.”
U.S. politics engulfed in threats following police search at Trump's home – CBC News
A Republican former U.S. attorney general is pleading with his fellow Americans: cool down the ill-informed speculation threatening to engulf the country’s politics.
The police search at Donald Trump’s Florida residence has prompted a surge in inflammatory rhetoric reminiscent of the volatile weeks after the last election.
It’s included violent threats against officials, vows of political retaliation against the FBI, comparisons to Nazi rule and social-media musings about civil war.
Alberto Gonzales is urging people to withhold judgment until we learn more about what actually prompted Tuesday’s hours-long search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
The attorney general under George W. Bush told CBC News he feels sympathy for his former department: the Justice Department avoids, as a general rule, discussing investigations, in part to protect the reputation of its target.
Since there is no guarantee charges will be laid following a search, Gonzales said, it’s unfair to a suspect to rush out and describe what you were investigating.
This, he concedes, puts his former department at a disadvantage by creating an information vacuum that in this case is being quickly filled with speculation.
“There’s a lot here we don’t know yet.… People need to wait. People need to be patient. I have a great deal of confidence and faith in the department. I’m not saying it doesn’t make mistakes from time to time. It does, it may. Nonetheless, I would give the benefit of the doubt to the department. Let the department move forward and do its job.”
Such calls for patience are falling flat.
Heated rhetoric, threats increase
The nation is awash in furious speculation from every strata of American society, from anonymous accounts to high-ranking members of Congress.
Why did FBI agents scour the former president’s home for classified documents? How sensitive were they? Did Trump show them to anyone? Did any non-Americans see them? Is it connected to a broader investigation? Is it a smear job to stop Trump from running for president again?
Is this all about mishandled documents? Authorities aren’t talking and Trump has refused to release the search warrant, which could offer clues.
Republican politicians have largely closed ranks around the former president and threatened everything from defunding the FBI to grilling law enforcement at committee hearings.
They channeled the rage of the grassroots supporters who idolize Trump, like one protester outside Mar-a-Lago who told Reuters on Tuesday: “You feel like you might be in Venezuela or China or Russia or even in Hitler’s Germany.”
Researchers of online chatter say the intensity of anger has spiked to levels resembling the environment before the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
It includes talk of murdering the judge who reportedly authorized the search warrant, along with the heads of the FBI and the attorney general.
Online calls for civil war
Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, said regular citizens are hearing from conservative opinion-makers that America is slipping into tyranny and they’ll be targeted next.
And the response, he said, has been an instant surge in violent rhetoric across multiple online platforms, especially smaller websites without teams of content moderators.
“It’s large amounts of people openly fantasizing about using violence to target their perceived enemies,” Friedfeld said in an interview.
“People are saying they’re fed up, that it’s time for a civil war, that they have to fight back now, otherwise they’ll live in tyranny.”
One difference from Jan. 6, he said, is there’s no physical rallying point, no place for a mob to gather right now.
That will change if Trump ever gets charged.
A police lieutenant in one U.S. city told CBC News that colleagues are already having informal discussions about how to secure the courthouse if there’s a Trump-related case there.
‘Lock and load’
Friedfeld said it’s an obvious risk. He predicted that prosecutors would have their personal information leaked on the internet and would face a deluge of threats.
“Everyone on the prosecution will need to be protected,” he said. “Physical security is going to be paramount.… There will be people advocating for violence against the people trying to prosecute Trump.”
Another researcher, Daniel Jones, said the inflammatory rhetoric comes from three groups.
One he describes as entertainers — media personalities who crave attention. In that category he includes Fox News prime-time shows excoriating “Biden’s FBI.”
“We’re seeing things like, ‘Lock and load.’ … ‘This is a civil war,'” said Jones, the lead investigator in the U.S. Senate’s report on torture in the CIA, and a researcher with the non-profit, non-partisan group Advance Democracy.
“[We’re seeing] direct threats against that judge [who reportedly signed the warrant]… [And stuff like], ‘Attorney General Merrick Garland should be executed and assassinated.'”
Republican calls for defunding FBI
The third and final group he identifies, the one he calls most disappointing, comprises mainstream politicians who should know better.
Some Republicans have been repeating Trump’s line that perhaps police planted evidence at his home.
That includes the Georgia Q-Anon peddling firebrand, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who told One America News Network she’s thrilled by how many of her lawmaker colleagues are siding with her.
“I usually fight with my Republican colleagues, because I don’t think they’re strong enough,” she said.
“But I am hearing things that I am so happy to finally hear come out of their mouths. Because when we take back the majority and we are in control in the House of Representatives, we are going after the Department of Justice; we’re going after the FBI. We’ll control the budget that funds everybody’s program and everybody’s paycheques.”
‘A federal judge authorized this search’
Republicans on Capitol Hill say the outrage is not merely performative, as a public declaration of fealty to Trump in order to placate their grassroots.
They say they truly believe authorities, and the media, aggressively target conservatives while ignoring transgressions from Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton.
The most senior Republican in the House of Representatives had a message about what his party will do if it wins a majority in this year’s midterm elections and gains power over congressional committees.
Party leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that he would call Garland to committee hearings and demand he preserve all documents about the case.
Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, told Fox News that his party will scrutinize the actions of law enforcement.
“You better have explanations ready,” he said. “Because you cannot weaponize our institutions for political gain. That is the destruction of democracy.”
The eruption of outrage underscored the extent to which the Republicans are truly, deeply Donald Trump’s party now.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush’s attorney general offered his faint plea for people to trust law enforcement.
“A federal judge authorized this search,” Gonzales told CBC. “That means something, as far as I’m concerned.”
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