Since the election, many of us have wondered: Could the new administration really be the caricature of callousness we feared it would be? The day Trump unveiled his budget proposal, we had our definitive answer.
It could be, and it is.
Once upon a time, the general-turned-president Dwight Eisenhower issued a famous warning: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” At stake is not the nation’s “money alone,” the former World War II commander observed, but “the hopes of its children.”
If that’s true, the Trump budget proposal is a colossal theft of hope. It proposes to buy guns, warships, and bombers at the expense of almost everything else — including the planet. It’s the starkest grab from butter to give to guns since World War II.
Salting the Wounds of Working People
The proposal’s centerpiece is a nearly unprecedented military spending spree, raising the Pentagon’s base budget $ 54 billion over where it was last year.
That increase steals directly from much cheaper programs to provide meals for poor children and the elderly, as well as from medical research, affordable housing, and — ironically for a president that called himself “Mr. Infrastructure” — all the agencies that fund infrastructure. It would completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which costs each American taxpayer less than a pack of gum but serves every district in the country, in a seemingly transparent effort to stifle dissent among the artists, librarians, and writers who build our cultural democracy.
In cut after cut, the proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help.
The sadistic slashes include cutting job training and safeguards to ensure that factories and mines are safe for workers. Funding for the economic development of rural communities, including in Trump-friendly Appalachia, is cut deeply, and so are funds for distressed “inner cities” — each of which Trump has claimed to be a champion of.
Desperately needed funds for public schools will be funneled away to unaccountable private and charter schools. Rent and heating assistance for poor families is also on the chopping block.
These cuts to vital domestic programs come on top of years of deep cuts they’ve already endured. Leaving people in rural areas and distressed cities struggling without rent, heat, food, and good public schools — while tearing families apart with new resources for deportation — will leave nothing left for an overblown military or domestic militarized police forces to defend.
Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, has defended his draconian cuts to safety net programs by saying we should only pay for programs that work. Feeding poor kids, he claims, hasn’t helped them do better in school, so those programs should be cut.
But that standard doesn’t square at all with the proposal’s call to increase the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters we’ll be buying. The F-35 jet program is the most expensive weapon system ever devised, with the total cost of the program estimated at more than the GDP of Australia. Yet every few months during the many years it hasn’t been flying — and while its costs have been rising — we get news of something else on this plane that doesn’t work, and that will slow down its ever-receding timeline.
Gutting Diplomacy and Starving the Hungry
Yet not even shredding what remains of the social safety net is enough to balance out Trump’s massive proposed gift to the military-industrial complex. Also targeted for elimination are America’s diplomatic corps and foreign aid programs.
The extra money for the military will be partly taken out of the State Department, which would lose fully 28 percent of its budget. With Trump gutting U.S. diplomacy, ratcheting up military spending, and appointing military men to top national security posts, that would virtually guarantee the triumph of war over diplomacy in future foreign policy decisions.
Meanwhile, Trump’s evisceration of foreign aid programs would prove to an already skeptical world that the U.S. government really doesn’t care about starving children or women dying in childbirth.
The cuts come as the UN warns that 20 million people are at risk of starvation, as famines sweep across several countries in Africa and the Middle East. One of those countries is Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest, where the U.S. is backing a Saudi Arabian war and blockade. Thousands of Yemeni children are now at risk of dying of starvation, alongside millions more in Somalia, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria.
The most shocking part?
Even now, before these proposed cuts, we spend less than one-fifth of 1 percent of our national income on foreign aid. That barely amounts to a rounding error in the Pentagon budget. Slashing that tiny sliver of foreign aid will do nothing to improve the most powerful military in human history, but it’ll do much to destroy the lives of some of the most vulnerable children on earth.
Vandalizing the Planet
The Trump budgeteers have also taken special care to target virtually all federal programs that are working to avoid the worst ravages of the most serious existential threat facing humanity: climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency alone faces a 31 percent budget cut. Those cuts are carefully designed to incapacitate the agency and prevent it from carrying out its mission of protecting our air, our water, and — critically — our most vulnerable people.
They include a complete elimination of climate change funding, including for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. They would also abolish the Environmental Justice program, which provides much-needed grants to communities of color and low-income communities dealing with disparate environmental impacts — a gratuitous cut that has no obvious purpose other than pandering to racists.
The EPA’s Office of Research and Development would see fully half of its funding eliminated as well, in a blatant continuation of the administration’s war on science and facts.
On the local level, bipartisan-supported programs to restore regional watersheds are also in danger. The budget would eliminate federal funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, for example. Restoration investments for these water sources more than pay off in the form of healthier residents, fisheries, and tourism, but the administration would do away with them.
At the global level, meanwhile, the Green Climate Fund — which the UN set up to help poorer countries develop cleaner energy sources and adapt to climate change caused by richer nations — stands to lose $ 2 billion in outstanding pledges if the U.S. stops funding it. (Under Obama, by comparison, the U.S. spent around $ 2.6 billion in international climate finance in 2015 alone — including $ 500 million for the Green Climate Fund.)
Importantly, defunding international climate finance would confirm that the Trump administration intends to default on its agreements as part of the Paris Climate Accords, regardless of whether it eventually decides to formally withdraw from the pact.
Global climate action will continue regardless — with China, India, and other countries well placed to eclipse the U.S. in developing the new technologies around which the economy of the future will be built.
But removing climate finance will irreparably harm some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, who are disproportionately affected by climate change. Withdrawing funding for people at risk of drought and flash floods and disappearing coastal cities is a huge injustice, given the major role that the U.S. played in causing climate change.
In short, these environmental cuts are an act of planetary vandalism by a billionaire president, backed by the oil industry shills, climate denialists, and 1 percenters stacked into his cabinet.
Making the Opioid Crisis Worse
If there’s one winner in this budget besides the Pentagon, it’s the militarization of our southern border.
The Trump administration has requested $ 4 billion to begin work on a solid, concrete border wall estimated to cost between $ 8 million to $ 25 million per mile. If it extends to the full 1,950 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, it could cost up to $ 50 billion to complete. Along with a draconian deportation push that will devastate families across the country, Trump calls the wall a necessary measure against “bad hombres” and “drug lords.”
Yet most drugs entering the country aren’t carried through the desert by migrants. Instead, they enter the U.S. by the ton using other air, sea, and land routes.
On land, they tend to come through existing checkpoints hidden in vehicles, or underground tunnels — with the latter capable of moving tons of drugs around the clock. On sea, the latest innovation is narco-submarines, which can carry 6-12 tons per shipment. By air, traffickers have used everything from catapults to ultralights, and now drones. If anything, Trump’s absurd investment in an opaque wall will only incentivize traffickers to invest in more countermeasures like these.
Trump has said this is a major initiative to combat the opioid crisis by restricting the flow of heroin. In fact, the major driver of opioid deaths isn’t heroin, but the synthetic analog called fentanyl — which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin. Traffickers are adulterating heroin with the cheaper fentanyl to stretch their profits and unsuspecting users are overdosing on the mixture at an alarming rate.
On the off chance the wall is successful in reducing the heroin supply, it is almost certain that traffickers will resort to adding more fentanyl into the mixture, thus leading to many more overdoses.
Budgets are moral documents, and the moral atrocities of Trump’s budget speak for themselves. They echo longstanding calls from conservative congressional leaders to dismantle social programs and dramatically increase Pentagon and border spending, only now with the call of “America first.”
As the betrayals in this budget request make utterly clear, this is false populism.
Along with our allies, we intend to bust it. We believe that America, and indeed the world, is better off when we listen to the needs of our families, communities, and the planet over the drumbeat of war and hate.
As Eisenhower said, it’s not just money alone that’s at stake. It’s everything we value.
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The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is the oldest multi-issue progressive think tank in Washington, DC. IPS has been at the forefront of research and action for the civil rights, anti-war, feminist, environmental, and global justice movements in the U.S. and around the globe. The Institute has partnered with grassroots advocacy organizations to provide public scholarship in support of organizing efforts to build a more just and peaceful world.