The moral bankruptcy of President Trump's budget
It is, in a word, evil
Let me repeat: This budget is evil. It presents a demented vision of what priorities the federal government should invest its resources in.
To pay for his proposed border wall, new warships, and other misguided priorities, Trump has assiduously avoided tax hikes, reductions in military spending, or changes to the country's major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. So the money must come from the only pot of federal spending left: non-defense discretionary.
The massive technocratic programs conservatives traditionally criticized are not to be found there. Rather, non-defense discretionary spending is an enormous hodgepodge of small programs — streams of federal money going to towns and cities and local communities around the country, for everything from fighting poverty to science research to environmental cleanup to education. This is the federal spending that supports the "little platoons" of civil society that conservatives claim to champion.
Trump would take an axe to all of it.
At the level of government departments, the cuts are staggering: The Interior, Transportation, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development Departments would all be cut by 12 percent to 18 percent. The Agriculture Department and the Labor Department would both be reduced by 21 percent. The State Department could be cut to the tune of 29 percent. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be slashed by a jaw-dropping 31 percent.
But to really understand what kind of havoc that would wreak, you need to get down to the individual programs that would be cut.
Gone would be the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal government's efforts to fight homelessness. The budget would axe $35 million for Habitat for Humanity and YouthBuild USA. It would cut federal funding for programs that create affordable housing and help low-income Americans build their own homes. It would nix the $210 million the Treasury Department gives to community banks to support lending in down-and-out communities.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Global Climate Change Initiative would lose $250 million. Biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health and research into things like advanced batteries at the Energy Department would get a 20 percent cut.
All funding for transit projects that have not already secured federal money would be eliminated, throwing dozens of projects across the country into chaos as they scramble to plug the holes with more local money. Never mind that good transit is a crucial ingredient in job opportunities for poorer Americans. Federal support for Amtrak's long-distance train service and for flights to rural airports would also go up in smoke. This would further entrench the country's regional inequality, isolating struggling areas from the cities that are monopolizing the economy.
Trump would basically nuke the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), a kind of catch-all basket of federal funding that helps communities with all sorts of problems. In Philadelphia for example, CDBG money goes into everything from financial counseling for low-income families to local business development, home repairs for the poor, and foreclosure prevention. The CDBG even provides funding for the Meals on Wheels programs, which deliver food for seniors and the disabled around the country.
To quote Charles Pierce: "Who in the hell zeroes out Meals on Wheels?"
Lest anyone think Trump is tearing into ethnically diverse urban areas while protecting rural working-class whites, his budget would also scrap the Appalachian Regional Commission. The program was started by President Johnson in 1965 and funds job creation efforts in 420 counties. In fact, many of the programs Trump would nix provide enormous help to rural and small-town communities, where families are 24 percent more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck than in the cities.
Trump's budget does not discriminate. It distributes its brutality equally to poor and working-class Americans of all races and ethnic backgrounds.
What else would disappear completely? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which disproportionately helps impoverished families educate their children. The Energy Department's weatherization program that has helped seven million households insulate their homes. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which already only has the money to help 20 percent of families in need. Fifty EPA programs that assist with everything from environmental restoration to industrial waste cleanup.
The budget would obliterate the Chemical Safety Board, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (libraries and museums!), the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, the United States Institute of Peace, and on and on and on.
Perhaps the one good thing that can be said of Trump's budget is that large swaths of the Republican Party will probably balk at passing it. Most likely, it will forever remain nothing but a proposal.
But as Pierce also noted, Trump's budget represents the end logic of Reaganism and conservative ideology. It operates on the implicit belief that a democratically-elected government should have no say in directing economic resources. Rather, all investment decisions should be made based on the beneficence of local business owners and oligarchs or the profit motives of Wall Street investors.
The budget also rests on the GOP's twin obsessions with austerity and tax cuts: "Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” Trump's budget director Mick Mulvaney recently asked. The answer of course is no, we should ask the wealthy to pay for it. And we should acknowledge that, contrary to right-wing talk of debt crisis, the federal government actually enjoys unparalleled freedom to spend, borrow, and invest.
But perhaps the most perverse part of Trump's whole budget is that it levels all this destruction to make room for 10 percent more military spending and border enforcement. "There’s no question this is a hard-power budget," Mulvaney continued. "It is not a soft-power budget."
Hard versus soft. Repairing the environment, building homes, delivering meals, understanding the natural world — those are values for the weak. Guns, bombs, tanks, and border agents — that's strength.
It's the moral philosophy of a 12-year-old bully. And to hear it come out of the Oval Office is horrifying.