A music director speaks out against Trump’s blurring of truth

A music director speaks out against Trump’s blurring of truth


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2017

Leon Botstein, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and president of Bard College, has published an article in the New York Times on the dangerous reality of ‘alternative facts’.

Botstein states the case with great clarity:

Not since the era of witch hunts and “red baiting” has the American university faced so great a threat from government. How is the university to function when a president’s administration blurs the distinction between fact and fiction by asserting the existence of “alternative facts”? How can the university turn a blind eye to what every historian knows to be a key instrument of modern authoritarian regimes: the capacity to dress falsehood up as truth and reject the fruits of reasoned argument, evidence and rigorous verification?

The atmosphere of suspicion and insecurity created by the undermining of truth provides the perfect environment for President Trump’s recent actions on immigration. The American university’s future, indeed its most fundamental reason for being, is imperiled by a government that constructs walls on the Mexican border, restricts Muslim immigrants and denigrates the idea of America as a destination for refugees.

Although American universities did not always welcome the huge influx of refugees after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, that intellectual migration transformed a provincial and second-rate higher education system into the finest in the world. Manufacturing may have fled our borders, but American higher education remains a powerful and competitive force…

Read on here.


  • Doug says:

    I always turn to conductors when it comes to matters of national security. You know what, just STFU. Another symptom of a deeply sick “industry”.

    • Bruce says:

      He’s the president of a college (a “real” college, not just a music school), and thus is actually qualified to write about this subject.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I don’t turn to non-entities named ‘Doug’ re any matters at all. You are patently stating that your fellow citizens, all of them regardless of occupation, should keep their opinions to themselves re the actions of the current regime. Why not go the whole hog and write a full-blown tirade against freedom of speech? Trump might hire you to replace Sean Spicer or as an aide to Steve Bannon.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Mr. Botstein is president of Bard College, is a very respectable institution, founded in 1860.
      It’s true, however, there are cases of fraud in US higher education. The for-profit Trump University (2005-2010) was a well known recent example. After his election, Trump paid $25 million to settle multiple lawsuits, though as candidate he made racists comments about a judge who was handling his case.

    • Dan P. says:

      When people start griping about the right of a person to make a public statement because they are in this or that field it’s invariably because they don’t like what he’s saying and wish to shut the person up. Such a criticism is meant not only to take away one’s right as a citizen but is also meant to undermine the speech itself by demeaning the speaker without bothering to make a cogent argument against what was being said. Kind of dishonest and sleazy at the same time, no?

    • Musica est omnium says:

      Don’t answer the arguments of so called “Doug”. It is just an internet bot (software algorithm) to spread hate.
      And should against all odds there be a person behind so called “Doug”, he/she is at least behaving as a hate-diffusing bot.
      It is really depressing how much political hate nowadays is brought into Slippedisc which concers music, an universal art which can relate to and unite all humanity.
      Think Beethoven 9, not Donald T!

      • Heath says:

        That’s funny, I see all the political hate on Slippedisc coming from the left, the Trump bashers. No need to reply. I won’t be checking.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed about Beet IX. But algorhythms can be remarkably life-like. We had one at tea the other day, lobbying for sponsorhip, and we only found-out it was not human after it left and we looked at the business card whereupon ‘executive’ was misspelled.

  • V.Lind says:

    I hadn’t realised that in Trump’s America a man who works as a conductor has forfeited his First Amendment rights. Last time I looked, anyone who submitted a reasoned and articulate article to a newspaper could have it considered for an op-ed piece. When did taking up the profession of music strip you of these rights?

  • Veritas says:

    Doug, Bruce and V. Lind are both completely right and you must not know who Leon Boststein is: one of the most intelligent humans on the planet for whom conducting a symphony orchestra in an enormous range of overlooked and unfamiliar repertoire is a sideline to his other intellectual pursuits. There is no one more qualified than him to comment on this subject, which is higher education and makes no mention of national security. So Doug, I think you need to STFU.

    • Steve P says:

      Universities have about exhausted their usefulness in creating public narrative. Get back to training doctors and lawyers and stop inventing the next SJW curriculum field of permanently offended babies.
      And it sure seems like pop science “facts” are coming under scrutiny for being manipulated to support lib agendas. Here’s a fact:
      Trump. Won. And. Keeps. Winning.

  • HowaboutHiss? says:

    This from a man who has a chair named after the Communist Alger Hiss. However, Botstein and his colleagues deny the fact that Alger Hiss was a traitor and not a victim. Botstein is an expert myth maker.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A beautiful, humanistic text, apparently from an academic who is profoundly dedicated to the cause of a humanistic, civilized society and a cosmopolitan world view where not race and cultural background, but human qualities and merit count as important.

    All the more surprising from a man who burned-down one of the great humanists of the 20st century, the novellist Stefan Zweig, whose works enjoy a revival and of which his ‘The World of Yesterday’ remains one of the monuments of an impressive, sympathetic, humanistic European nostalgia:


    Botstein is bitter about Zweig’s self-identification as a cosmopolitan, intellectual European, and not as first and foremost a Jew, as the reader gets the strong impression that Botstein had preferred Zweig to insist on race and antisemitism, a bit in Trump-style.

  • Marg says:

    Thank god for people who will speak out so sloquently and risk volumes of hate mail, threatening phone calls, adn the rest (which happens constantly to such people if you care to check deeper). Brava Mr Botstein.