Before the American Health Care Act (AHCA) failed, before Rep. Devin Nunes snuck onto the White House grounds to sully the Russia investigation, before Ivanka Trump got her West Wing office, before Jared Kushner became responsible for everything presidents are supposed to do, before this terrible new administration made clear that peeing on the Constitution is just another day in the office, the President presented his budget outline. Remember? It’s a doozy, unsurprisingly, and pretty much every salient point is enough to make most progressives’ blood boil. Obviously I join my fellow artists in their consternation about the proposed cutting of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Not only is it a vindictive, outrageous proposition, it’s purely cosmetic and won’t make the slightest difference in the federal discretionary budget. Many writers have addressed this, on the CFR and elsewhere, and I will soon share with you my thoughts on behalf of the arts organizations in my community.
But I actually want to dwell on other points in the proposed budget before the next shoe drops and we forget once again what a doozy it is. Yes, the arts cuts are terrible and they affect me and my peers directly, but we can’t ignore the very real, very callous, very dangerous, very anti-humanitarian aspects of this plan. Yes, arts are essential; arts need and deserve funding. But the fact is that Americans can’t enjoy the arts if they’re broke, jobless, sick, discriminated against or dead. Let’s take a look:
- 13.2% cut to Housing and Urban Development
- 12.7% cut to Department of Transportation
- 16.2% cut to Health and Human Services
- 13.5% cut to Department of Education
- 31.4% cut to Environmental Protection Agency
- 28.7% cut to State Department
- 20.7% cut to Department of Labor
- 20.7% cut to Department of Agriculture
- 16.2% cut to Health and Human Services
Plus significant cuts to the Commerce and Interior departments. These cuts will eviscerate programs like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and to programs that focus on affordable housing, climate change, clean energy initiatives and infrastructure — the latter being an area that the President was touting as an opportunity for bipartisan buy-in and investment. Community centers. Chemical safety regulations. Public service initiatives. Museums. Libraries. NASA. There’s no aspect of American life that makes our country progressive and productive that this president will not attack.
I’m livid as anyone else in my industry about the arts and humanities cuts. Again: this will affect my community, my friends and my family. It will affects my stress level and my livelihood. I think it will be detrimental to the country, to youth, to the future of arts in America. But I’m as concerned about, if not more concerned about, the gouging of programs and entitlements that affect everyone.
So what’s to be done? Contacting our representatives seems like the obvious path — whether it’s calls, letters or going to the rare town hall meetings certain members of Congress will still occasionally show up for. But as much as there has been unprecedented outreach from voters to our reps, it doesn’t seem to slow the tide. Just because conservatives thought the misguided AHCA wasn’t conservative enough and moderates were terrified of being politically burned in effigy in 2018 if too much of the ACA was cut, that doesn’t mean they won’t try, try, try again, no matter what the media might say. Public protests have grown in size, in fervor and in media coverage, but movements can sizzle and then dissipate over time.
I see the country going down one of two divergent paths:
- The most conservative wing of the GOP will begin to obfuscate as badly, but as effectively, as they did under President Obama, leading to more years of a complete and utter standstill in DC;
- Former moderate Republicans will badger, bully or bribe the alt-right into supporting the agenda as a “best-you’re-gonna-get” scenario, leading to a Republican legislative extravaganza unseen in modern history and liberals like me curling up in the fetal position under the dining room table.
Thoughts? What can we do? Are protest and outreach the answer? What about more extreme measures? Do we let them pee all over the nation at the same time they’re peeing over the Constitution, knowing in our heart of hearts that they’ll ultimately fail the very constituents who put them in office? Progressive minds want to know. For now, I find myself a mixture of reluctant to believe the former and recalcitrant about the latter. Just call me relucticalcitrant.