Hours before his inauguration tomorrow, Donald Trump appears ready to approve budget-cutting plans that would outsource public radio and television financing while killing altogether federal support of the arts and humanities.
The plans were revealed Thursday morning by the D.C. newspaper The Hill, which reported that under recommendations by the President-elect’s transition team, “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely…The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition…
Brian Darling, a former aide to Sen. Rand Paul and former Heritage Foundation staff member, told The Hill, “The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget.”
The total budgets of the three entities for FY 2016 is $741 million, according to published documents, or .016 per cent of the $4.6 trillion U.S. budget.
The endowments, which provide a comparative pittance in dollars but which exert a significant imprimatur effect on fund-raising, each get $148 million per year. The rest, $541 million for 2016, goes to the CPB. In addition, The Hill reported, “The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.”
Reaction to the report, from cultural organizations across the spectrum, was quick to emerge on social media and from major cultural organizations.
The Trump administration’s plans “are an outrageous abdication of the U.S. government’s proud history of support for groundbreaking research and creative endeavors that have served as engines of innovation and bolstered America’s stature as a haven for free thinkers and a global leader in humanity’s shared quest for knowledge,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, which advocates on behalf of writers and editors. “This proposal sends shivers down the spine of all Americans who value research, scholarship, and creativity and who recognize the mortal blow that eliminating these vital agencies would strike at the heart of treasured sectors of our society. Even apart from the essential resources at stake, the signal sent by this gesture is a slap in the face to artists, writers, researchers, and scholars who are learning that the Administration seems to consider their work worthless.”
Republicans have long targeted the endowments, created in 1965 during the Administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. The movement picked up steam in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan vowed to eliminated the NEA but instead merely cut its budget in half. The ensuing decade saw the culture wars, in which conservative politicians targeted public spending on the arts in a time of widespread dissent and cultural activism.
“What can one say to this news (if it is true) that has not been said a thousand times before about the (again, just talked about at this point) elimination or reversal of so many extraordinary programs in this country?” Lincoln Center Theater producing artistic director André Bishop told Deadline. “Day by day one’s heart grows a little heavier. Eliminating the arts and humanities endowments? Who would have thought? To what end? Why are we still surprised every time this happens?”
Trump has not yet tweeted a response to the report.