FILE PHOTO: A combination photo showing the 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees: Actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade (L to R), singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan, hip-hop artist LL COOL J, television writer and producer Norman Lear and musician and record producer Lionel Richie. REUTERS/Staff/File Photos

(Ruhl’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/25; via Pam Green.)

On Tuesday night CBS will air the Kennedy Center Honors, and President Trump will not be on the screen, because he declined to attend the eventwhen it was held on Dec. 3 in Washington. What does it mean that Mr. Trump didn’t have the nerve, for a single night, to be in a room with artists who have criticized him?

The president’s team claimed that he did not attend so that the artists could celebrate in peace rather than having a political distraction. But the president votes, as we all do, with his feet.

Though the arts have never been neutral politically, the honoring of artists is a bipartisan ritual. The Kennedy Center was a place where the left and the right could agree that the arts occupy a central place in our culture, worthy of our attention and respect. Artists chosen for the Kennedy Center awards generally have fans on the left and the right and everywhere in between. The checkbooks of art patrons are not marked with their party affiliations.

I came of age in the culture wars of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan planned to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and, instead, ended up whittling down its budget by a small percentage. Still, in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed “a culture that was as fertile as this new land” and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.

“And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,” he said.

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