Trump's beautiful proposal for federal architecture

A couple of ironies are unmistakable here. Few public figures in memory have done more to demean the dignity and encourage the disrespect of government than Trump; signing the order would be at least a small gesture toward remediation. Meanwhile, the architecture establishment, which, like nearly all cultural organs, is squarely on the political left, might be expected to support a project meant to restore the public’s faith in “the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability” of the federal government. (The quote is from the draft order, which in turn is quoting an older, largely ignored set of federal guidelines.) Isn’t an enterprising and vigorous government a progressive ideal? In the Trump era everybody is changing places.

One can legitimately argue with the order, beginning with the fact of the order itself. Even some traditionalists see unilateral executive action as a thick-fingered means to achieve the admirable goal of a more humane and welcoming built environment. Trump’s critics, who tend to see him as Il Duce with hair, go much further. The general accusation is that the proposed order is another sign of incipient fascism—“one of the most blatantly authoritarian things the government has yet attempted,” says Wired. The charge has grown ragged from overuse. More than half a century ago, the writer Jean-François Revel wondered why the dark night of fascism was always falling in the U.S. and yet lands only in Europe…

No one knows whether Trump will care enough to read the draft, much less sign it. From the evidence of his buildings, Trump’s taste in architecture runs toward a gaudy modernism, far removed from the restrained and tasteful traditionalism that the order promotes. If he signs it, he will do so for one of two reasons: (1) He truly believes it will elevate the quality of federal architecture and thereby the general level of citizenship. (2) He doesn’t care one way or the other but knows it will send his enemies right around the bend.