President Trump’s proposed preliminary budget — the so-called “skinny budget” which, in Trump parlance, is a woman who’s at least a seven — came out Thursday morning. Branded with the definitely not alarming title of “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” the Commander-in-Chief’s financial dream journal details plans to up spending for the military while cutting spending just about everywhere else.
Among the agencies that Trump hopes to eliminate entirely: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
What would that mean in practice? Those who stand to lose out here are not the coastal elites Trump loves to hate but Americans in rural and underserved communities. According to the Washington Post, “About 25 percent of NEA block-grant funds go to rural communities and 54 percent to low-income areas.”) The cuts would devastate local TV and radio stations in places where heaps of Trump voters live. As for the savings, well, the combined national budgets for the Center for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities account for “much less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending,” as the New York Times reported.
That said, Big Bird is likely safe from yet another Republican man threatening to boot him from his nest, and not just thanks to the letters H-B-O: PBS only relies on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for less than seven percent of its funding. NPR, which leans on the agency for less than one percent of its revenue, should be able to continue to keep those voices calm and carry on. From the Post:
Because the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has low overhead costs, it distributes almost all of the taxpayer money it receives, in the form of grants. From its $445 million appropriation in 2014, the corporation paid out $441.7 million, or 99.3 percent. The vast majority of that money, 90.3 percent, went to local stations in places such as Lawton, Okla., and Texarkana, Tex., not to PBS and NPR.
Many of the cuts Trump proposes in his budget, like the elimination of a program that makes sure low-income families can have heat in their homes and another that delivers meals and safety checks to senior citizens in need, are cruel but in character. They’re compassionless and shortsighted, with a particular malice toward the poor.
But Trump’s total disdain for public funding for the arts is a little ironic. Trump, after all, rose to prominence because of the arts.
Before he entered the presidential race, Trump had done time on several other career tracks: He was an often-bankrupt real estate mogul and golf course operator, a failed frozen steak salesman. But his political ambitions didn’t really take off until after he became a reality television star on The Apprentice, which premiered in 2004.
It was his success as a TV personality that enabled his run: Long after the gossip rags tired of his adulterous escapades, Trump relied on his reality TV stardom to amass a following, craft a public image as a forceful, decisive businessman, and stay in the public eye. Even while running for president, Trump continued to play the part of celebrity-candidate, hosting Saturday Night Live almost exactly one year before the 2016 election.
Trump is also, famously, an insatiable consumer of all things entertainment. He is obsessed with television (who reportedly watches it non-stop, even in the White House); he regularly live-tweets the Oscars; he has strong opinions about what theater should be (“a safe and special space”) and shouldn’t be (“very rude”); he is fixated on the ratings of a number of television shows from morning news to late night comedy; he cares deeply about the romantic entanglements of actors he admires.
Trump’s proposed budget cuts aren’t aimed at the likes of NBC — this isn’t so much a literal biting-of-the-hand-that-feeds as it is an insistence that people who can’t afford the arts neither deserve nor need access to them. But still, a person could go as far as to say that, on a personal level, Trump has far more experience and investment in the arts than he does in politics. Can’t imagine why he doesn’t want to invest in the arts in return.