With typical bombast, Donald Trump calls his 2018 draft budget America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again. No, it won’t make America great again. It reflects a hardness of the heart and a sickness of the spirit unworthy of the American people.
Chances are, the great leaders of this country’s history wouldn't even recognize its vision of America.
A Vision of Hard Power
Trump’s Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former Tea Party Congressman from South Carolina, has described the draft as a “hard-power budget.” It slashes spending on diplomacy and foreign aid, while pumping up the military’s already-overinflated coffers. It boosts spending on what is already the largest military force in human history by $54 billion in a single year.
"The core of my first budget blueprint is the rebuilding of our nation's military without adding to our Federal deficit," says Trump in his introduction to the document.
But James Madison, the fourth president of the United States who helped draft both the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, once said:
"A standing military force with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty."
The U.S. military hardly needs “rebuilding.” Pentagon spending has consistently risen through times of war and peace. And if Trump were genuinely concerned about the federal deficit, he could raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for his military spending spree. He asks everyone else, including future generations, to sacrifice instead.
The budget includes deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (31 percent), the State Department (28 percent), the Department of Health and Human Services (18 percent), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (13.9 percent),
Trump promised to invest in infrastructure, but his budget cuts road spending by nearly half a billion dollars, and includes no new infrastructure spending. He promised to end disease, but this program slashes public health and medical research spending.
Trump’s budget would end all spending for National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is also symbolic, since these organizations make up only a tiny fraction of the federal budget. But these cuts, along with much larger reductions in funding for education and scientific research, constitute a fiscal war on the mind.
"Where knowledge is a duty,” wrote Founding Father Thomas Paine, “ignorance is a crime.” In Paine's sense, at least, this budget is criminal.
Its cuts to the EPA are an assault on the land itself. Trump's determination to gut environmental regulations would cause incalculable ecological damage in the pursuit of private wealth.
This disregard for the land would have horrified another Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who once said,
Of all the questions which can come before this nation … there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us… Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.
The budget blueprint also calls for a “regulatory freeze,” which would make it harder to rein in the Wall Street banks whose massive frauds devastated the economy in 2008. It does, however, include $2.6 billion for Trump’s foolish and xenophobic border wall.
Shock and Awe
This is a “shock and awe” budget, designed to dazzle and confuse Trump's political enemies and the general public. When Republicans on Capitol Hill dial back a few of its more extreme cuts, as is almost inevitable, the public will be expected to sigh with relief. That would be a mistake, since the result will almost certainly remain draconian.
Congressional Republicans will also demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Trump promised to defend those programs, but stay tuned: after ritual displays of ‘reluctance,’ followed by ‘negotiations,’ Trump will probably break that promise too.
Trump pretends to be a different kind of Republican, but his budget blueprint is ideologically consistent with the modern GOP’s hard-right extremism. It values death over life, and fear over hope. It tramples on the bonds that hold us together as one people. It sells off the environment, our shared inheritance. It rejects the fundamental American idea that a nation should be a community, a group of people who protect and look out for one another. It’s antagonistic to the very idea of government itself.
“The government is us,” said Teddy Roosevelt. “We are the government, you and I.” But to Trump and today's Republicans, the government is an alien force to be repelled – unless it’s spending billions on unneeded new machineries of war.
More will be written, here and elsewhere, about the details of this document. It’s not just a bad policy proposal, although it is that first and foremost. Fundamentally, it’s a betrayal of the American spirit.
“We are struggling to save the soul of America,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960. That struggle continues.