“Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions,” they wrote in a letter to Trump. “We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
They added, “Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.”
The members, selected by President Barack Obama during his term, but held over during Trump’s tenure, include Kal Penn, Paula Boggs, Chuck Close, Richard Cohen, Fred Goldring, Howard L. Gottlieb, Vicki Kennedy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anne Luzzatto, Thom Mayne, Eric Ortner, Ken Solomon, Caroline Taylor, Jill Cooper Udall, Andrew Weinstein, George Wolfe and John Lloyd Young.
They also said that “reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill.”
The committee was created by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 to advise on arts and cultural issues, and among the first members was Frank Sinatra. While its members are unpaid, they are active on a number of programs. During the Obama years worked on support for such endeavors like the Turnaround Arts initiative and a cultural delegation to Cuba.
Some committee members said that they had expected to resign once Trump took office, but they were asked to stay on by Trump’s team, at least during a transition period. Since then, though, they have not gotten direction on what the plans were going forward, and some members said that they were not sure that the president knew that the group existed. First Lady Melania Trump serves as honorary chair, but committee members said that she has not been involved since Trump took office.
In the letter, committee members also protested a host of Trump’s other actions, including the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords and the White House budget that proposed eliminating funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
Trump’s response to Charlottesville, in which he said that “both sides” were to blame for the violence last weekend, has drawn rebuke from Democrats and some Republicans, as well as a number of corporate CEOs. Trump disbanded advisory councils on manufacturing, strategy and infrastructure after it became clear that business figures were ready to resign from the groups. On Thursday, James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, sent out a letter to friends in which he criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville and wrote, “there are no good Nazis.” He also pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League.
The Arts and Humanities committee is not to be confused with the National Council on the Arts, a separate body that advisers the chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those members are also appointed by the president to six-year terms, but they require Senate confirmation.
Update: The White House said that Trump had already decided not to renew the executive order for the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which expires later this year. “While the committee has done good work in the past, in its current form it simply is not s responsible way to spend American tax dollars. The PCAH merely redirects funding from the federal cultural agencies (NEA/NEH.IMLS) that answer directly to the President, Congress and taxpayers. These cultural agencies do tremendous work and they will continue to engage in these important projects.”
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions. We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans. Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American. We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment. We must learn from our rich and often painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people, we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and built the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin.
Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The Administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act, and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we all love. We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.
Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.