The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget, which prioritizes defense and national-security spending above all else, would deal crippling blows to government-funded institutions in the arts and humanities and leading American organizations that foster international dialogue and understanding of global affairs and cultures.
Reversing decades of bipartisan political and financial support for such institutions, the Trump White House seems to view these programs with barely disguised disdain, as reflected in the justifications offered by the Office of Management and Budget. The underlying message is that, to survive, such organizations will have to rely on private funding.
If the president gets his way in Congress, which is by no means certain at this point, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would disappear from the federal budget over the next year, along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the United States Institute of Peace, and several foundations working in regions around the world of interest and importance to Americans.
Some of the cuts fall under the combined budget of the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has been slashed by nearly a third, to $37.6 billion. Many other cuts affect freestanding agencies that are nevertheless reliant on government assistance. Also scheduled for elimination are educational and humanitarian programs in various other government departments, as well reductions for science research and the zeroing out of contributions for the Green Climate Fund and the Global Climate Changes Initiative, which had been budgeted for $1.6 billion 2017.
The White House budget office lists 19 major federally budgeted programs being cut or eliminated, covering domestic as well as international policy and cross-cultural programs. Given the $600 billion-plus in discretionary spending allocated to defense (compared with $500 billion for everything else), the cuts in cultural and people-to-people international programs do not add up to significant savings for tightening a nationalistic, security-driven budget that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described as having four major priorities: “defending US national security, asserting US leadership and influence, fostering opportunities for US economic interests and ensuring effectiveness and accountability to the US taxpayer.” The deadline for congressional action on the budget is September 30; the new US fiscal year begins on October 1.
Budget cuts and elimination of programs, by the budget-makers’ own description, primarily serve the purpose of Trump’s America First agenda. Explanations or justifications for why these eliminations are being sought are contained in a chilling 171-page White House report titled “Major Savings and Reforms,” published along with the full federal budget on May 23. Typical of the explanations offered in the Major Savings and Reforms report is this one about the Wilson Center, a universally recognized venue in Washington, DC, for advanced research and the discussion of foreign policy and global issues.