LEONARD QUART: A city Sunday of walking and political reflection

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By Saturday, Sep 30 Viewpoints
Union Square in New York City.

New York — A hot, sunny September Sunday, and I’m off to shop at Whole Foods on Union Square for fruit, vegetables and groceries to stock our refrigerator. On the 10-block walk I pass an ambulance, a police car, the usual sleeping homeless men, many people walking dogs, a number stores for rent (the city norm), and a large luxury building that is being built where a block long bowling alley and garage once stood. I’m always wary about these new buildings, because they are crassly intrusive and often replace what gives the Village its architectural character, though the bowling alley building it replaces had nothing distinctive about it.

However, there is a piece of relatively good news for my neighborhood — two cast-iron loft buildings at 827-831 Broadway that I pass by have avoided, for the moment, the wrecking ball. In 1958 the great Willem de Kooning who remained there painting works like a Door to the River, until he left New York City entirely for East Hampton, inhabited one of the floors of the striking loft building.

In later years, the noted abstract expressionist painters Larry Poons and Paul Jenkins also lived and worked in studios here. It’s a building worth preserving, and deserves a plaque memorializing who had lived and painted there. One can give credit to the determined Andrew Berman and the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society for hopefully preserving the building, and stemming the tide of egregious runaway development. Otherwise, there will be no building that hasn’t been landmarked in Manhattan that can’t be turned by profit-hungry developers into another monolithic luxury tower or a new hotel like the massive 300 room one going up in the East Village.

 

Later on the Sunday I sit in a crammed Washington Square Park filled with children rolling on Astroturf, jazz, folk, and classical musicians performing, and chess players (ex-cons, drug dealers, hustlers) playing tourists and young prodigies against the clock for five dollars a game. I sit on a bench amidst the heat and cacophony, and instead of merely observing what’s happening all around me, I reflect, as is the wont of any political obsessive, on Trump and the NFL.

I am an avid sports fan, so what occurs in the stadiums on Sundays impacts me directly.  During the Vietnam protests, I found flag burning understandable, but also saw it as probably politically counter-productive. However, the much more subtle acts by NFL players of kneeling, sitting, locking arms and raising fists during the national anthem were to me justifiable and made political sense. These were both protests against police brutality and acts of defiance against Trump, who demagogically called the mostly African-American athletes out campaigning in Alabama -–a shrewd, intuitive move, given a constituency where racism and patriotism are twin pillars of the state’s politics. Trump attacked the players who didn’t stand for the national anthem as “sons of bitches” and insisted that any owner should fire them immediately. He went on to attack them for their  “total disrespect of our heritage.” (“Our” -–I assume white heritage.) This coming from a President who found it possible to praise a number of the “decent” Charlottesville marchers that were supposedly merely fighting to preserve their heritage. Of course, they were doing this while in the company of indigenous Nazis and Neo-Fascists who were attacking all that the country purportedly stands for.

There is nothing new here, since racism and racist “dog whistles” are a powerful basis for Trump’s support, and he is most at home with cultural not policy issues — where reading and knowing something about the nature of legislation must play a role. So he invokes the flag and he attacks black athletes in a totally contemptuous manner for exercising their free speech. Trump is utterly at home in a political world where name-calling and bombastic rhetoric are central. It also moves the public away from his involvement with Russia, and other more significant and threatening political issues. Pop culture combat is his métier.

Two more things to think about regarding Trump’s brouhaha with the players — is that professional football has promoted itself as “America’s game” — politics being implicitly entwined with the game. Certainly in its endorsement of machismo and patriotism it’s never been apolitical. And I hold some hope that the athletes who rarely take an active political role will do a bit more than tweet powerfully like LeBron James did: “The people run this country, not one individual. And damn sure not him.” Though one can only cheer on the tweeting.


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