A collage of illustration of a hand holding a bag of money and a sign that says, "Fiscal Year 2019. Efficient, Effective, Accountable. An American Budget"

Explain This

Why Does Trump Want to Punish America?

The administration's proposal would not only hurt scientific progress, education, and already-struggling communities, it also undermines the very idea of democracy.

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There’s no question that the Trump budget is designed to be cruel to people who are already struggling or marginalized by cutting social-services programs to the bone. Trump and his administration view that cruelty as a feature, not a bug. But the proposed 2019 budget doesn’t just stop there. It goes on to propose massive cuts to a huge number of agencies, as Trump and his cabinet work to reshape—and undermine—the function of government.

These cuts aren’t just heartless or ill-advised. They’re deeply immoral, and they destroy the very bedrock of what it means to live in a democracy. They send a message that what matters is profit, not protection of the people. They send a message that the government isn’t for you or me or anyone you know. It’s for people with a large amount of money to make an even larger amount of money.

It’s been pointed out repeatedly that the whole of Trump’s budget is unlikely to get through Congress, but that’s beside the point. The budget serves as a statement of Trump’s values and priorities, and those values and priorities are sinister.

The proposal slashes $3 trillion in spending while still giving a huge bump to the military and demanding $18 billion for that wall Mexico was supposed to pay for. It does so by cutting or eliminating everything from the State Department to the National Institute of Health to the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s short-sighted and, if even only portions of it were to be enacted, incredibly damaging—and it doesn’t even make a pretense of trying to balance the budget, even though that is the very thing Republicans have insisted was paramount.

It’s clear by now that Trump fetishizes the military and thinks very little of diplomacy. Just look at the fact that he sent his daughter, a person who lacks a permanent security clearance and has no political or diplomatic background whatsoever, to brief South Korea’s president on the newly imposed sanctions on North Korea. These are not the actions of a man who believes in statecraft. Instead, it’s the actions of an authoritarian, of a deeply anti-democratic individual.

That worldview is reflected in his proposed cuts to the State Department—a worldview clearly shared by secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, rather than fighting to protect his department’s funding, is just fine with having his budget gutted. Indeed, he’s been happy to oversee destruction of the very agency he heads. United States diplomatic and foreign aid spending—which covers things as diverse as promoting democracy and fighting climate change—is slated for a 29 percent cut. The cuts are so ill-advised that even military leaders—151 retired three- and four-star generals, to be exact—begged Congress to keep the funding. Why? Because when 30 million people face starvation in countries are that are already dangerously destabilized, among other challenges, those things can’t be solved by military might alone. But Trump is signaling that America no longer cares about stability or democracy or leadership or doing the right thing.

Tillerson also isn’t interested in hardening American electoral systems against the threat of Russian hacking during the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. Though Congress allocated $120 million to the effort, Tillerson has thus far spent … zero dollars. Tillerson takes a fatalistic view that if Russia wants to hack us, they’ll manage to hack us, which is a terrifying refusal to engage with a really critical problem.

No one is surprised that Trump also has cultural agencies in his sights. In his 2018 budget, he proposed eliminating the NEA entirely, and those cuts appear in the 2019 budget as well. He’s proposed overall cuts of close to $1 billion to the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The justification for this is a familiar one: The government shouldn’t be in the business of funding the arts.

This is a completely wrongheaded view. Although fights about the NEA tend to focus on high-profile disputes over controversial art like Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, the NEA also funds a good deal of arts education at the local level, particularly for economically disadvantaged students.

Similarly, defunding the Institute of Museum and Library Services entirely, as Trump proposed, would harm millions of people who rely on libraries for critical information and activities. Libraries provide job skills training for youth and returning veterans, summer reading programs for youth in economically disadvantaged communities, and give blind and deaf patrons access to books in necessary formats. As the American Library Association points out, libraries are the centerpiece of communities, not “piles of archived books.”

Trump would like to slash $480 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, leaving them only $15 million. This would harm rural voters—i.e., Trump’s base—disproportionately. The bulk of CPB funding goes to supporting rural PBS and NPR stations. Without that funding, rural stations won’t survive, and the local-level information those stations provide will disappear.

Affordable-housing initiatives take a huge hit under this budget proposal as well. The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Agency would see $6 billion in cuts, affecting over one million families. Of course these cuts impact rent subsidies and repairs in public housing, but HUD funds much more than that. Community Development Block Grants would be entirely eliminated, and those funds are used for things like Meals on Wheels. The head of HUD, political novice Ben Carson, doesn’t seem very alarmed by the cuts. He figures that churches and nonprofits will magically find enough money to support housing in their communities. Of course, Ben Carson has found enough government money to do things like try to purchase a $31,000 dining-room set. Families will be out on the street, but at least Carson will have a swanky place to sit.

The EPA gets utterly destroyed in this budget, and given the antics of Scott Pruitt, no one is the least bit surprised. The agency would see roughly a 30 percent cut, including the elimination of the climate-change research program, the environmental education program, and more. It would even kill the ENERGY STAR program, which works to incentivize manufacturers to make more energy efficient appliances and individuals to buy those appliances. Meanwhile, Pruitt has been flying first class on your taxpayer dime, being weirdly and deeply paranoid, and rolling back restrictions on pesticides that harm children. What else would you expect from someone that doesn’t believe in climate change and thinks that evolution is just a theory without sufficient scientific facts?

The Department of Energy gets a modest funding boost, but that increase goes to things like the nuclear weapons program and “clean coal.” That increase is offset by deep cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which focuses on increasing fuel efficiency and promoting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This administration’s deep commitment to denying climate change means that they have to destroy any research into or funding of renewable energy because to acknowledge the need for renewable energy sources is to admit that such a thing is necessary. (He’s also imposed huge tariffs on imported solar cells, a move that is strangling solar corporations and killing jobs in America.).

Climate-change denialism is probably what is driving the proposed cuts to the National Weather Service as well. Extreme weather events are increasing, but the tsunami warning centers and weather forecast centers are already severely understaffed. Trump’s budget would eliminate 355 additional jobs, including 248 weather forecasters. These cuts would greatly impact the ability of the NWS to provide weather forecasts and warnings. What kind of government wants to block people from critical information about weather? A government that is more interested in bolstering a Trumpian cult of personality than behaving in a fashion that benefits its citizens.

Over at the Department of Agriculture, rural clean water initiatives, food aid, and rural broadband support get cut. Trump thinks that rural water problems can be solved by private sector financing. The problem with this thinking is that private companies resist expanding into rural areas because there simply isn’t enough of a population base to make those efforts viable and profitable. There’s no reason that would magically change because Trump kills public funding. There are also proposed changes to farm subsidies and crop insurance, but those are extremely popular, so those cuts are probably dead on arrival.

Of course there are massive cuts to Department of Health and Human Services. Trump hopes to strangle what is left of Obamacare, so the budget makes cuts to services that help low-income people get healthcare. There are also huge decreases in graduate medical education and shifts money to abstinence-only sex education. Title X funding is already getting stalled by Trump, which means that contraception and well-woman care is disrupted. Title X clinics serve low-income women and women of color—of course they will be hit hardest.

The cuts—and increases—in the proposed budget for the Department of Education reflect the priorities of both Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “School choice,” a.k.a. giving private companies money to create charter schools, among other things, sees an increase in funding, while teacher prep and school aftercare programs get slashed. Having students peeled off from public schools means public schools have to run on less money, because public education is funded on a per-pupil basis. DeVos has used her home state, Michigan, as a laboratory for her charter-school experiment, and those charter schools have wasteful spending and feature insiders making deals that benefit themselves instead of students. If she and Trump get their way, that will be rolled out nationwide.

So who wins under this proposed budget? Exactly who you would expect. The military gets $686 billion, or 13 percent more than 2017. That is supposed to fund more missiles, more tanks, more ships, all so it can build what the Department of Defense calls a “more capable, lethal, and ready” armed services. The Department of Homeland Security gets nearly 8 percent extra in funding in order to hire more immigration agents, conduct more arrests, and break up more families,

These utterly-unasked-for “protections” are the only thing Trump really seeks to offer. It’s a worldview characterized by the idea that everyone foreign (well, except Russians, apparently) is out to get you and the only way to be safe is to attack first.

All of these proposed cuts reflect a vision of America that is highly militarized, and one where immigrants live in constant fear. It overlooks—or, worse still—deliberately undermines the health and welfare of nearly everyone. It breaks the already-fragile American social contract. It destroys whatever was left of the Great Society.

In other words, it’s exactly what Trump wants.

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