Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2020 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.
How did you escape from Trump these past four years? What is your story of survival? Netflix and Prime Video were my best friends. I watched Everest- all three seasons twice; The Crown; Get Shorty; The Queen’s Gambit, Knock Down the House, The Last Dance, Becoming and so many more. I went on twice-a-day walks with the dogs, cooked, baked, worked from home, campaigned for Democrats. I scanned the media environment daily for signs of hope. There were few.
Here is a story of one person’s struggle to escape from Trump, only to find that he is seemingly everywhere. But there is one inescapable fact for Trump. Joe Biden’s inauguration day is drawing near.
We Can’t Escape
by Kim Painter
America has become a nation in which there is really only one topic. The Creature. The current occupant of The People’s House. Even as he fades from view, Donald Trump throws himself into high relief with ever more dramatic delusional claims and heresies. He is our first president to actively pursue sedition as a career path. And like all of you, I long for escape.
To that end I’ve done considerable reading, hoping to dodge reality in literature. One book during the last months provided unusually deep hiding for me. It pulled me into a world of which I’d previously been only superficially aware – the world of art and, more specifically, art restoration and authentication. Ben Lewis’s The Last Leonardois detailed, meticulous, and lively.
His subject is the attribution of a discovered Salvator Mundi to Leonardo da Vinci, its restoration, and its eventual sale for a whopping $450M. The auction outcome staggered the world and caused tectonic shiftings and rumblings in the world of art and art history.
For one seeking an absorbing hideout, it was perfect. I met Diane Modestini, restorer of masterpieces. Her job was to repair for the world a work that was damaged even to its foundation. I learned of the varieties of wood and their source locations in Italy and how that aided in attributing works to Leonardo or his students, known communally as the “Leonardeschi.” I learned of the epic roller derby of opinion among art historians, academics whose attributions are coveted by art buyers and sellers and auction houses looking to make premium prices on works they’ve located.
Lewis dives deeply enough to actively trace the pursuit of Italian masterworks by aristocrats, royalty and their representatives across the globe throughout history. Which royal family member had which markings impressed into the back panels of each prize item, which paintings did or did not have that hallmark? Was this Salvator Mundi the one discovered in the royal inventory of King Charles I, or the one named in a museum catalog among a raft of acquisitions? Which Salvators were stored in unused rooms, and which were catalogued as being in private royal quarters? Which art historians were working with and for whom as they unearthed these obscure details and glancing mentions to locate a painting that might be this Salvator, a long-lost work by Leonardo? I was awash in details, intrigue, and good old human avarice. I was having a great time.
And then – Donald Trump waded into the middle of it all in a famous 2017 photo including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Melania, in which the men all had their hands on an eerily glowing orb. Trump, Lewis validated, was mixed up with some of the dicier characters involved in the process of off-shoring art for the wealthy. This involves high-tech storage in Geneva, with premium security and almost indescribable anonymity for those storing art there. It is murky business.
Trump’s affiliation with bin Salman became notable. In 2017, as he was reported to have begun taking over for his failing father, Trump supposedly exclaimed, “We’ve put our man on top!”
Amidst this ascension, bin Salman chose to purchase the Salvator Mundi for $450M. By then it was attributed to Leonardo, albeit with some controversy. Lewis posits that, since this was bin Salman’s first purchase of a major work, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner may have advised him on its acquisition.
It seems a far journey from the haunting face of Leonardo’s Savior holding a clear orb to bin Salman to the grisly dismemberment of a journalist, and a US president’s assistance in halting its Congressional investigation. But an evil thing journeys fast and far. The very wealthy may fancy a pretty painting one moment and a man’s execution the next. Powerful people are often both depraved and inescapable.
In October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get marriage documents. He was forcibly taken, drugged, and ultimately dismembered by Saudi agents.
Trump, according to Bob Woodward in his book Rage, when pressed about bin Salman and the outrage over the murder, offered this: “I saved his ass. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”
So much for escaping into the world of feverish acquisitions and investigations of art. An astonishing painting is held by a thug. It has been removed from public sight, its whereabouts uncertain. Most appalling of all, a good man is dead, brutally killed, and President Donald J. Trump boasts of saving the murderer’s ass.
This is where we are, where we stand as a country. We can’t escape – not in books, art, or anywhere else. We can only await the departure of this monstrous example of degeneracy from our highest office.
—Kim Painter is a duly elected public official in Johnson County.