The usual freakout has ensued, which I will now pointlessly attempt to calm with numbered comments.
1. Nothing has been defunded yet. It’s just a budget proposal (and a “skinny” one at that, which means it’s vague on details), and Congress still has to approve it.
2. The GOP has issues with this budget. The actual budget is expected to look much different by the time Congress gets through with it, and Trump won’t have the option of vetoing the budget they do pass. So even with the current balance of power, I wouldn’t say it’s a fait accompli just yet.
3. One key thing missing from all the ZOMG meme rhetoric is actual consideration and evaluation of the argument in favor of defunding the NEA, NEH and CPB that conservatives have usually advanced over the last 20+ years.
This piece in the NYT runs through them, and interestingly, it’s not ALL about Alleged Liberal Bias. There are also questions about why the federal govt should be funding arts, humanities and public broadcasting in the first place; the potential politicization of art funded with govt money; the quality of the art produced (political biases notwithstanding); and whether or not Middle America is getting as much bang for their buck as the art hubs in New York and California, say.
4. That said, let's not pretend that liberal bias isn’t the main motivation for conservatives. The NEA, NEH and CPB are easy low-hanging fruit for conservatives who whine about how unfair it is that artists use tax dollars to pick on them exclusively. If PBS and NPR were churning out stuff that Fox News churns out now, I seriously doubt funding them would be an issue for conservatives (though it almost certainly would be for liberals). Sure, they also claim it’s about wasteful govt spending, Small Govt® and budget deficits, but come on, even conservatives know that as a percentage of the budget, it’s chump change.
5. The big question, of course, is what would happen to art and public broadcasting if Trump gets his wish? Can the free market preserve the status quo as effectively?
My own take: it’s probably worse news for public broadcasting than art.
Art is something artists are generally compelled to do, regardless of whether they can quit their day job or not. And there will always be people willing to fund art, whether it’s via Bill Gates or a Kickstarter-type model. Not everyone could find a patron, but that’s true now.
Public broadcasting could also turn to a Kickstarter model, perhaps – the problem is that running a TV station is a lot more expensive than the average art project. Without the CPB, a lot of smaller PBS affiliates will likely have to shut down. Or join The CW or something.
I suppose an argument could be made that in an age where the internet makes both funding and distribution easier than ever, YouTube and Vimeo are just as likely to create the next Sesame Street as PBS – so maybe CPB mattered more when there were just three TV networks on the air. Then again, most of the good programming is behind a paywall.
6. All of this raises the even bigger question framing the issue: is there a compelling government interest in subsidizing art and non-commercial broadcasting?
It’s an old debate, but I tend to side with the argument that culture, society and even the economy benefits from a thriving art community that isn’t purely driven solely by popular taste, the mass market, and what sells. I think that’s even more true for public broadcasting. It’s worth having television and radio programming that doesn’t have to concern itself with ratings or offending potential sponsors. When you listen to the homogenized formatted commercial radio landscape in America these days, the need for a non-commercial option seems pretty obvious to me.
And I don’t have a problem with tax money contributing to that effort, even if it results in art or TV shows I may not care for (or may never even see). It’s silly to defund the NEA just because artists are producing stuff you don't like or can’t use, just like it’s silly for me to demand that the government defund the entire military because I think Iraq War 2 was stupid, useless and counterproductive.
7. Which brings me to this article from FiveThirtyEight about the Trump budget, which points out that the proposal isn’t a solid blueprint of what the government will spend money on in the coming years – it’s more like a wish-list at this stage. Consequently, it’s a useful indicator of Trump’s priorities as POTUS.
Put simply, his priorities are hard power, a big-ass military and The Wall.
So if the budget is a reflection of what a given govt considers to be important foundational elements and values for the country, then in Trump’s America, the values that truly matter are bigoted xenophobic immigration policies and the ability to kick the ass of every single other country in the world combined with minimum conversation or negotiation. And not much else.
This is dF