If he does, he hasn’t shown it yet.
This post came out of a social media interaction this weekend. I was told by a family member, not for the first time, that while I don’t like Donald Trump, lots of people like him do like the President and believe he is going to take back the government from career politicians and govern in ways that are beneficial to “the people.” There is a lot to unpack here– like the fact that Trump has surrounded himself with career politicians or just who “the people” are– but I want to concentrate on the central belief that Trump supporters seem to have: that President Trump is going to work for “the people.”
How can we judge this? To hear my friends and family who support Trump, we can’t. You either believe him or you don’t. That is absurd. Government isn’t about faith in an unprovable deity, it is about tangible facts. We can observe our politicians and institutions and make an informed analysis about what they are doing and how it is altering (or will alter) the world we live in.
To evaluate whether or not Trump is working for the people we have to put aside the President’s populist rhetoric and the myriad of fake news stories trumpeting his great conquests in the name of working people and instead examine the policies and processes he has initiated during the early days of his administration. President Trump talked a big game about saving coal miners and factory jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and general economic prosperity, but what has he actually told Congress to focus on? Our best source for information on how he plans on moving forward is in his budget proposal.
Donald Trump put forward his first “skinny budget” last week. These budgets act as a wish list of sorts– a guiding document on how the President plans on governing. Trump’s budget is notable for several things. One, it is (unsurprisingly) almost childlike in its focus on only hard power. Increasing defense spending while drastically slashing funding for diplomacy, aid, and a variety of soft power projections that help win us allies and evangelize our economic and political worldview is clearly counter-productive. Our hard power is unchallenged– and has been for nearly 30 years. The war on terror is an ideological one. Hearts and minds, as hokey as that slogan was, are much more important than the specter of fear and violence. More interestingly, at least for this exercise, is what it slashes and who that helps or harms.
Let’s start with the traditional backbone of rural America– agriculture!
Trump’s budget suggests cutting the Ag Department’s budget by 21%. SNAP, always hated by conservatives, is not on the chopping block, nor are crop subsidies. The likely culprits will be rural development and research grants and staff reductions at various service centers around the country. Also included are $95 million from the rural business and cooperative service. So the message to farmers who voted for Donald Trump– stick it.
Trump’s big plans for commerce follow a similar pattern. The Commerce Department is targeted for a 16% reduction. Trump loves economic development in downtrodden areas– he’ll bring back your jobs! Except, of course, that he is cutting funding to things like the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Economic Development Administration, and coastal research programs that help port cities prepare for changing sea levels and worsening storms. After all, safer seas could harm reality tv programming about fishermen. Small business people will get it too. Trump wants to cut 5% of the Small Business Administration’s budget, eliminating technical assistance grants and other programs that his administration thinks the private sector already “provides efficient mechanisms” for– i.e. services small businesses could pay for. It also cuts the amount given in loan guarantees available to small-business owners.
Trump wants a strong and vigorous American defense system. He is calling for historic increases in spending! Of course, it can only be considered historic if you have no knowledge of history. Trump is marginally increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps and the number of ships in the Navy’s fleet. What military study does he point to for these increases? None I’ve seen. Similar increases are in line for joint strike force fighters and the Air Force. Even with all of this, it only amounts to a 3% larger budget than what the Defense Department spent last year. Hardly some huge historic increase. Billions for defense contractors. Thousands for common men and women who sign up to serve. Potentially thousands more for those who take advantage of one of our most generous social programs, the GI Bill.
Which brings us to education. Trump plans on making 14% cuts to the Education department, primarily by cutting 3.7 million in grants to afterschool programs, teacher training, and work-study programs for low-income college students. What a great deal for the people! He also shifts nearly 1.5 billion away from public education and into charter and private schools through school choice initiatives.
Let’s take a quick tally here. In ag, commerce, defense, and education we have huge net losses for farmers and small business people, billions in graft for wealthy defense contractors, small gains for individual servicemen and women, and huge losses for the children of working and middle-class families, teachers, and public education. To this point in the budget, we’ve robbed roughly 70% of the country in order to give billions to the top .1%. Man of the people, indeed.
18% cut to health and human services, that decreases funding for NIH and programs that train health professionals. Cuts to the Department of Homeland Security come in around 7%– made worse by the shifting of money to show big boosts to spending on border and immigration enforcement (including the idiotic wall). Eliminates $667 million in grants to state and local agencies for pre-disaster mitigation and counter-terrorism. Oh, it also raises the TSA Passenger Security Fee you pay every time you fly out of a US airport. Great deal for the common man.
Housing? 13% cut, primarily in community development block grants and several homeownership programs (that help lower-income Americans– you know, the common man– afford their own homes). Interior department? 12% cuts, eliminating funding for the 49 National Historic Sites but with marginal wildfire suppression funding. Hey, why should factory workers in Ohio have to pay for rich people in California’s wildfire suppression??!!
Donald Trump was the candidate of law and order. Yet, the Justice Department has a 4% cut coupled with increases to spending on speeding up firearms background checks and removing immigrants (while refusing to pay states and local governments for the costs of incarcerating undocumented immigrants. Don’t worry about the 1 billion in cuts to federal prison building– we’ll just privatize that…
So Trump’s budget isn’t working for the farmer or people in commerce. Surely he must plan on helping the common worker. Wrong. The Labor Department will be cut by 21%, primarily in funding for job training for displaced workers, disadvantaged youth, safety and health training for non-profits and public agencies, and spends more money to try to make sure no one is getting undeserved benefits.
Maybe transportation will fare better. Nope. 13% cut. Privatize air traffic control. There is no way that could go poorly. Eliminates funding for new transit projects. Remember all that talk about funding new roads and railroads? Total bullshit. Eliminates subsidies that keep rural airports open. Enjoy finding new places to fly your little puddle-jumpers, Trump voting private pilots.
Then there are the arts. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The wealthy love the arts. They have life long access to them, appreciate them, and use them for a variety of purposes, professionally and personally. It has traditionally been a marker of status– to know, appreciate, or participate in the arts was a sign of wealth and power (or talent that was being patronized). It is the least democratic attitude possible. America has funded many cultural agencies in order to help provide things like dance companies, radio stations, orchestras, theaters, museums, and education for decades in order to provide generations of young Americans access to these vital areas of human expression. Donald Trump wants to take that away from you.
Trump calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (148 million), the National Endowment for the Humanities (148 million), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (230 million), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (445 million). This only hurts the common man– the wealthy will continue to have access to all of the things these programs provide.
Trump’s budget is an outright assault on the common man. It drops all pretense to the populism that Trump ran on and substitutes a hyperactive version of Paul Ryan’s “cut everything and usher in the Randian apocalypse” philosophy. David Brooks of the New York Times laid this bare last week:
The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.
Aren’t Donald Trump and Paul Ryan wonderful, working class America? They are doing literally nothing to expand your opportunities while funneling ever more cash to the military industrial complex that has siphoned more blood and treasure from you than all other government institutions combined.
Trump and the GOP sell this as the way to being fiscally responsible. Look at the budget above, from the Washington Post. These increases, small as they are, are far more than what is being cut. These cuts ONLY harm poor and middle-class Americans without making even a dent in our budget issues. Our fiscal issues can only be altered through increasing tax revenue, cutting defense, or cutting Medicare and Social Security. If a politician says otherwise, they are lying to you.
Like Donald Trump all you want. I think it is unfathomably stupid, but this is a free country. However, you don’t get to say that he cares about the common man. He makes it very clear with his policies that he does not.