May 23, 2017
Today, the White House released the official details of its proposed FY2018 "skinny budget" that President Trump proposed back in March. In this latest version, the president doubles down on his recommendation to eliminate the nation’s key federal cultural agencies for the arts, humanities, museums, libraries, and public broadcasting by allocating the minimal amount “for expenses necessary to carry out their closure.” The budget proposal also eliminates important arts education and afterschool grant programs.
This “budget,” however, has pushed me too far. I’m not going to talk about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, tax cuts for the rich, or the reliance on the “trickle-down” economy which was first strongly proposed (I believe) under Ronald Reagan and has yet to show signs of working. That’s already all over the news and will be so (along with a bunch of other stuff), I suspect, for quite some time. No, I’m not an economist and I really don’t understand all of that all that well, although I have to admit that, having been required to pay Social Security taxes for all of my working life, the idea that the payments I was promised can be cut in order to buy guns and give breaks to “job creators(?)” bothers me a good deal. I have a contract with the government called Social Security, and now they can just change it because they were stupid about how they invested the money they required me to pay in based on their promises? I wouldn’t have thought so, as contracts are supposed to be binding, but, that’s not really my point.
No, I want to talk about those things which I believe I actually know something about based on a lifetime of working in the arts and culturally related areas. It seems quite evident to me that if, as I have heard it said, a budget is defined by values, Trump’s budget suggests that he doesn’t (and by extension he doesn’t believe the nation should) value the arts and culture enough to wish them to be a part of our nation’s priorities. Okay, he has a right to that opinion. (I've read the First Amendment).
Culture is generally defined as the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group
of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music
and arts. Some go a step further, defining culture as shared patterns of behaviors and
interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization.
Thus, culture can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique
to the group.
(slightly rewritten by RSB) (source: www.livescience.com)
If this is a correct definition of “culture,” and it’s as good as I’ve seen, we are talking about something which is pretty basic to the group identity of Americans as U.S. citizens. Our culture is richer than many because of our long tradition of immigration of peoples (hence, their culture, as well) from throughout the world into our country. Our culture is rich in “… languages, religions, cuisines, social habits, music and arts.” Unfortunately, too many people wish to tear our country apart by refusing to acknowledge that we are one people coming from many sources (“E Pluribus Unum.)” This, I believe, is one of our greatest strengths, as long as we don’t let it become a point for division. We are Americans, first! Then, we are Americans from a variety of other cultures. If we forget that, we are doomed as a people. If we don’t choose to value the arts, the humanities, museums, libraries, cultural exchanges with other nations, etc., then we are choosing an existence of barrenness, cultural poverty and divisiveness. By accepting that our strength lies in our diversity, we can only be stronger. And our arts institutions, museums, libraries, etc. help us discover and celebrate that.
There is also the fact that our cultural institutions, from WCU’s Mountain Heritage Day to countless public and private celebrations of the Fourth of July, and many others, provide major reasons for travel and tourism. That means that these institutions contribute to the creation of economic growth and jobs in hotels, restaurants, travel, etc. in addition to the employment of people to operate, or be employed by, the cultural institutions, themselves. The figures I have seen suggest that this is not an insignificant amount (and also suggest a major contribution to the tax income of many jurisdictions, as well). And, many states and localities promote their cultural institutions as reasons for businesses to locate there. Evidently, a lot of people think that cultural institutions are of some importance to our overall sense of self.
And, perhaps most importantly, for at least some people, the proposed budget is, I believe, a bit over 4 trillion dollars. A look at the chart above (and some quick math) suggests that enacted appropriations for FY 2017 for ALL of the agencies in the chart above total just a bit over 4 billion. If, as I believe is correct, one trillion equals one thousand million, then cutting all of these agencies to 0 would only save about one tenth of one percent of the proposed budget. Is it really worth the destruction of America’s sense of itself to save that little? One F-16 fighter costs about four times that much! But, Trump wishes to fund these institutions (many of them, at least) only "for expenses necessary to carry out their closure." I find this lack of support for American culture a bit depressing.
If others find this depressing, too, I would encourage them to contact their Representatives and Senators to protest this idiocy. There is so much to be destroyed for so little gain. I don’t see how this can be considered rational fiscal policy, but don’t take my word for it. Check the facts for yourself. Then, if you think this doesn’t make sense, do something about it. It’s OUR government, the Constitution says so. It also says that that government was created to “… promote the general welfare….” Let’s see that it does so.
Next time I’ll try harder to return to more usual sort of matter.