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You Can’t Ask Me to Pay for That

The current president’s proposed budget eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, abolishes the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, guts the Environmental Protection Agency, and slices community block grants to the bone. It gives more money to the military and, I assume, border walls.

There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind the proposal, just a lot of chest-thumping. Trump’s budget director says we can’t ask coal miners and single moms to pay for public broadcasting. It’s a nice soundbite, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. First, Americans pay only about $1.30 per year for public broadcasting, so eliminating that tax burden won’t even free up enough money for a gallon of milk. Second, I can’t think of anyone who needs public broadcasting more than hardworking folks in rural America. I’m no elitist snob. I’m not suggesting that rural Americans need PBS or NPR for their own good. I’ve lived in rural America. Let me tell you, when you live in a town where the nearest movie theater is an hour’s drive away, you are grateful for Masterpiece Theatre. When you live in a town where the only radio stations you can dial in are delivering 24/7 sermons and ag reports, you welcome Morning Edition.

Look, it’s insulting to insinuate that people who live outside big cities don’t care about PBS and NPR. I’ve known farmers and construction workers and plenty of single moms. They love Downton Abby. They love This Old House. And, yes, they love Big Bird. Further, those immigrants that everyone seems keen to vilify these days learn to speak English by watching public television. I know this because I used to work for PBS stations and people would call in every day and tell us how, when they first came to America, they learned the language by watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Many of them told me this while choking back tears and bragging about their children who were now in college thanks to America and thanks to public broadcasting.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities have long been easy targets come budget time. They sound expendable. The NEA and NEH should consider rebranding. (The National Endowment for Everything That Makes Life Worth Living, perhaps?) Look, the most successful and innovative people in the world know that you cannot have a strong society without the arts. When a child paints or dances or writes poetry or strums a guitar, she begin to think differently. Her brain expands. Her world expands. The same goes for adults. We know that people who read literature—not just articles or magazines, but good fiction—are more empathetic than those who don’t. Who doesn’t want more empathy in the world? When a person learns to play a musical instrument, he strengthens the part of his brain associated with memory and learning. He becomes smarter. Our society is better when we are smarter. Also, it’s better with music. Funding the arts doesn’t just give us art, it gives us the next generation of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs. In the past, even conservatives understood this. William Bennett, secretary of education under Ronald Reagan, said this:

“The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting, and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.”

When LBJ created the National Endowment for the Arts, he said this:

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

How have we devolved to a point where our nation’s leaders try to sell the idea that art is a luxury? Because that’s what they’re saying when they point to coal miners and single moms. They’re telling us that certain people don’t deserve art, don’t deserve culture, don’t deserve to be treated as intelligent human beings. According to the current administration, a coal miner can do nothing but work hard, worry, and sleep. He’ll never have the energy to enjoy life or to hope for more. It is a bleak sales pitch and a dangerous game of class warfare.

That said, if we’re going to start singling people out and determining what we can and can’t ask Americans to pay for, let me tell you a few things I don’t want to subsidize.

  • The military salaries of marines and soldiers who spend their days posting revenge porn online. These people are criminals and should be locked up. I don’t want one penny of my tax money paying their salaries.
  • School vouchers for religious education. I don’t have children, but I’m more than happy to do my part to support the nation’s school systems. What I don’t want to do is pay for children to attend schools that don’t teach evolution. Not one penny.
  • Second homes for first ladies. I understand why the president’s wife wants to live apart from him, but I don’t believe I should have to pay for it. If the president’s third wife wants a year-round second residence, fine. Let them pay for the residence, the security, and anything else out of the family budget.
  • The Southern White House. There is no such thing. If the president wants to play golf and snap selfies every single weekend at his private, exclusive club, he can pay for it himself. I shouldn’t have to pay for him to fiddle while the nation burns.
  • The border wall. Every report on this wall says it will be incredibly expensive and wholly ineffective. It’s a complete waste of money and I don’t want my tax dollars funding it. Besides, if America continues on its current path, I don’t believe we’ll need to worry about folks sneaking in across the border.

Look, our country needs to be more fiscally responsible. We will all have to make some sacrifices if we want to chip away at our federal deficit, but I’m not sure how asking the people with the least to make the largest sacrifices will solve anything. And that’s what this proposed budget does. It robs from the poor to fund the rich. I don’t see how we can ask coal miners or single moms or any working class American to do that.

 

Published in Politics Writing

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