Road to Dystopia: And How About That Budget?

Donald Trump

Once upon a time, when self-righteous folks made speeches about their deep levels of concern about this or that issue, skeptical listeners would respond by telling the speaker to “put your money where your mouth is.” That rejoinder reflected a widely-held recognition that talk is cheap—that a person’s real priorities could only be determined by examining the level at which one “walked the walk,” including where a person put his or her money.

There are many differences between government budgets and personal ones, but there is also one undeniable similarity: you can determine governments’ priorities by following the money, by seeing what measures and programs public officials want to fund—or defund.

For example, the GOP’s persistent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are entirely consistent with its belief that male dominance should take priority over women’s health.

Donald Trump has sent his preferred budget to Congress, which will have the last word on expenditures, and we can be sure that the budget that emerges (assuming one does) will differ significantly from its current form. That said, there is significant Republican support for the President’s priorities in this Congress, and those priorities should appall anyone who actually cares about poor or middle-class Americans–or the future of the planet.

The President is advocating enormous increases for America’s already bloated defense budget, at the expense of widely valued programs like the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among many others.

The Corporation for National and Community Service promotes volunteerism in distressed communities, and provides college stipends for those who serve those communities. Legal Services—already inadequately funded—provides critically important legal assistance to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to fight predatory lenders and slum landlords, get divorced, or access Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps and other benefits to which they are entitled.

Much sarcasm is generated by the periodic efforts to “save Big Bird,” but public broadcasting and the Endowments for the Arts and Humanities bring unbiased news, cultural events and civic conversations to citizens who would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore those perspectives.

It’s hard to look at this budget without seeing a deliberate effort to kick people when they’re already down,an effort to further impoverish the people who are most disadvantaged by depriving them of everything from legal assistance, to heat in the winter, to educational entertainment.

Trump’s proposed budget also cuts funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third; and eliminates support for climate change research as “a waste of taxpayer money.”

It is difficult to understand this Administration’s wholesale rejection of science and climate change as anything other than a cynical subsidy to the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies. The environmental dangers of this assault have been widely discussed, but its cynical subtext has not: the effects of environmental degradation will fall first—and hardest–on poor Americans.

Flint, Michigan is hardly the only disadvantaged community with contaminated water.

Nor would polluted water be the only likely result of the savage cuts to EPA programs: there is likely to be a return of the smog and poor air quality that once characterized our urban areas, and fewer efforts to eliminate lead in the soil and house paint in older, more deteriorated neighborhoods.

This budget rewards the privileged with tax credits while waging war on the people least well-equipped to fight. It is an exercise in cruelty, not to mention stupidity—a short-term political map to long-term disaster.

Following the money in this budget leads directly to dystopia.

 

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on April 3, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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