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What They Think- Political Parallels- Art and Actuality

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

An essay on global and local issues – War, art and the environment. Brian Keeler

Sometimes it may just be better not to know what one’s political representatives are up to and what they think about important matters. Take Pennsylvania Senator, Gene Yaw or some of the Bradford County Commissioners in Towanda, PA for example. In the face of the horrendous tragedy in Ukraine the response has been singularly opportunistic and just exactly opposite of what should be done.

This painting of 1794 by Johann Zoffany depicts a scene of the French Revolution. The painting is titled, " Plundering the King's Cellar, Paris 1794." The visual resemblance to those who supporterd Trump on January 6th of 2021- climbing into the nation's capitol is unmistakable.

I started this essay with a photo of a painting from the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT. This wonderful painting of 1794 by the German Artist, Johann Zoffany depicts a scene from the French Revolution where protestors are storming the the Tuilleries Palace while desecrating buildings, killing and looting. In this intensely critical view of the French Revolution the- ( painting is titled “Plundering the Kings Cellar at Paris 1794”) one fellow is depicted in the lower left extracting the gold tooth fillings of a victim. The visual and political parallels to the volatile attack of January 6th of 2021 on our nation’s capitol are unmistakable. Art reflects life, and life can repeat art and history. It has also been said that history does not repeat itself so much, but the relation of past and present is more of rhyme or an echo each other.

To see the parallels and to draw out the relevance of this painting in regards the acts of January 6th and the relationships to local politics- our county commissioners were amongst those at the protest in DC on that day. In fact, they organized a busload of their supporters to travel to the nation's capitol to partake in this nefarious action. Did they actually join with the other vandals who destroyed, property and life? Who knows? Then again, as these are the same folks that subscribe to QAnon conspiracy theories- we should not be taken aback by these latest antics. I think most will identify positively with the idealism of the French revolution, after all it was inspired by the American Revolution and it was a democratic urge at its heart with the effect of wresting power from an arrogant monarchy. Not so with Trump zealots who were doing the opposite- trying to overturn an election and reinstall a despot. And it is also one of the ironies of history that the conclusion of the French revolution was to see it co-opted by Napoleon, a foreign born despot, war monger and the epitome of an autocrat.

I bring in this aspect of history, and art history with our own current events from the uprisings of two centuries ago to illustrate two disparate but related aspects of just how askew our politicians have turned.

Ancient Greek History and the French Revolution have parallels to today's events. This painting by the author titled "The Hemlock Cup" depicts the death of Socrates. It is based on Jacques Louid David's painting of the same theme. David's painting had overtones to the unjust government of both his time and those of Socrates. Today we can see a principled leader like Zelinsky standing for virtue much as Socrates did in ancient Athens. There is current exhibit at the MET in New York of drawings related to this painting by David.

The opportunistic aspect is that these fellows are trying to capitalize on the tragedy of Ukraine by making it into a windfall for the petrochemical energy companies. Call me an idealist, but I thought our elected officials were supposed to be acting on behalf of the people and not blatant lackeys in the hip pockets of the fracking industry. This seems to be the case however.

If Senator Yaw or the commissioners in Bradford County were to have their way, the trains of LNG would be rolling daily, the pipelines would be flowing and new construction would be coursing across beautiful farmland, mountains and streams. And the roads between Wyalusing and Philadelphia would have up 1400 trucks full of explosive product each day. Is this an improvement of the quality of life for anyone?

In a recent letter to the editor and also posted on Yaw’s website, he has opined that those three Pennsylvania environmental agencies that halted the proposed LNG plant near Wyalusing were acting to benefit Russia. Talk about distorted conflation and if not outright willful misrepresentation- this really takes the cake.

Russia has made Ukraine into a hellish catastrophe and these elected officials would have us potentially do the same here in America by enabling an industry that could reap disastrous effects here at home. They've already turned a bucolic agrarian area into a industrial zone. The shipment and manufacturing of LNG is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The potential for disaster is more than likely as the explosive nature of shipments on a daily basis would be the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs endangering wide swaths of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Not only that, this plant construction on the beautiful shores of the Susquehanna River has desecrated historic homes, the original site of the Moravian Mission dating from the 1760’s and bulldozed over 265 acres that includes a Christian and Native American cemetary. A sacriledge, a travesty and an abomination all rolled into one.

Instead of attempting to wean America off of fossil fuels and instead of allowing Ukraine to be independent of Russian energy or American- our politicians are backsliding into advocating for even more dependence.

Furthermore, it was not too long ago that our own autocratic extortionist-in-chief, former President Trump was bullying and cajoling Ukraine’s President Zelinsky. Do our republican politicans expect us to have forgotten this repugnant behavior and how it lead to the second impeachment? If Yaw and other Republicans were to have their way, the DT will be back in the White House and threating to withhold aid to Ukraine until he gets his concessions or digs up political dirt on his opponents. Did you ever think we are living in a moral inversion of the Universe? With policies and actions by Yaw and crew- who needs enemies or wars to ravage the land as they're doing their best to undermine any advances or common sense environmental actions.

Here is what Yaw says-

Three Pennsylvania environmental groups handed Russian President Vladimir Putin a major victory. Those same groups are cheering and patting themselves on the back because they successfully shut down an $800 million liquified natural gas project in one of the most rural parts of my Senate district.

Yes, we are taking a victory lap and well deserved too, as these efforts have stopped (for now) this LNG processing plant. You’ll notice that the $800 million is always bandied about by Yaw and others as the ultimate justification of this LNG project. A catastrophe is still a catastrophe whether it is $800 or $800 trillion. The same could have been said about Auschwitz – the huge amount of money invested there did not justify a morally reprehensible endeavor any more than it does in Pennsylvania. It is always about flashing the cash for these guys and one could easily conclude a biblical parallel of worshiping the golden calf.

To further underscore how this global disaster is relevant, either in bellicose actions or in energy production, a recent article in the New York Times by Farhad Manjoo brought out just how complicit the fossil fuel companies are in this Ukraine conflict. The author referred to the Ukraine situation as fossil fuel war. He reasonably argues that;

On one hand, it would seem uncontroversial to point out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a war enabled and exacerbated by the world’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. It shouldn’t be so: Russia is a petrostate- its economy and global influence are heavily reliant on its vast reserves of oil and natural gas- and Vladamir Putin its petromonarch, another in a line of unsavory characters, whom liberal democracies keep doing business with because they’ve got something we can’t live without.

In that same NY Times article:

This could have been a moment of moral clarity on the dangers of fossil fuels- but so far democrats have fumbled that message.

"This narrative has not been out there-that war is why we need to get off of fossil fuels" said Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of Southern California, Sanata Barbara, who studies environmental Politics.

The other thing about LNG in particular that has not been mentioned is the potential vulnerability as a terrorist target. The processing plant is a sitting duck and shipments, by rail, truck, pipeline or boat are easy targets that could decimate entire cities. The same vulnerability is apparent with nuclear plants, but the LNG shipments make these even worse.

To Yaw and commissioner McKlinko in Towanda the issue of global warming seems irrelevant or a hoax. Their only concern is maximizing profits for the fracking industry at the expense of our history, natural beauty of the landscape and safety of the population. There is the ruse of conflating this with supposed concern for Ukraine, albeit a backward effort and it proves that two wrongs don’t make a right.

The reversal of the LNG construction was greeted as a very positive development by many. I posted news of this on Facebook and it received a couple of hundred likes and many positive comments. Although our environmental group, Protect Northern PA was not involved in the legal action we have been continually presenting the facts and the dangers associated with LNG.

With this essay being published on the verge of Earth Day, we would hope that our elected officials would begin to understand the peril that global warming presents to the health and safety of the planet and all who inhabit it- and begin to have our policies reflect this reality.

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