Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Unnecessary Public Funding of the Arts
President Trump released his budget, so, queue the leftist outrage. One of the major sources of ire for a lot of progressives in this plan is the proposed zeroing out of public funding to the arts. Specifically his proposal calls for the elimination of tax dollars to the National Endowment of the Arts, and Public Broadcasting. Opponents immediately ran stories insinuating that Big Bird had been placed in the President’s crosshairs.
Even if that was true, which it isn’t, why should anyone care? It has long been a credo of progressives that the government must assume the responsibility for maintaining it’s culture, presumably through public funding of the arts. A careful perusal of the Constitution will not find any such language to support cultural maintenance as a necessary function of the government. However, a careful history of how it has played out since the government first began funding the arts, in one of the many misguided efforts of the Great Society, readily shows how unnecessary it is.
Take the funding issue. Federal dollars are a miniscule part of, not only the Endowments budget, but also PBS. Overall giving to the arts last year totaled almost $10 billion. So, there are plenty of sunny days left ahead for Sesame Street, Trump’s proposed cuts notwithstanding. Private donations have always been the most important part of promoting the arts. Isn’t that the way it should be? If people want to support artistic expression, then let them donate of their own accord.
In truth, the subjective opinions of consumers of any art form, are the only things that even give value to them at all. If the force of taxation has to be used to keep a show running, or some art form being promulgated, it means that the public is subsidizing the preferences of a few at the expense of everyone else. There simply shouldn’t be any government “seal of approval” on any kind of artistic expression.
Another reason for this is that it actually lends itself toward stifling true artistic expression. Washington Post columnist James Glassman has said that, the PWA, a sort of precursor to the National Endowment of the Arts established by FDR, “stifled creativity,” producing works “that are dreary, unimaginative condescending and political. Government subsidies tend to reduce choice and diversity in the artistic marketplace, encouraging artists to emulate one another as the compete for grants, rather than focusing on artistic expression.
Then there is the matter of the highly controversial things that have received federal funding through the years. Tax dollars have gone to fund things such as Andres Serrano’s 1987 photograph “Immersion (Piss Christ).” More recently the agency has seen fit to give funds to a 2017 performance of Macbeth “staged with a zombie theme.” Then of course there are numerous times where tax dollars have gone to subsidizing outright porn. No matter progressive arguments, it’s hard to see how the taxpayer should be expected to fund smut and undead theatre in the name of culture.
Opponents of the cuts argue that funds to the endowments are small fraction of the overall federal budget, and therefore won’t make much of a difference overall. While true, the cuts show Trump’s commitment to slashing all nonessential government spending. Other President’s have proposed and implemented cuts to the National Endowment, but their opposition was primarily ideological.
Trump’s cuts seem to be almost entirely pragmatic. Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the arts that could be put to better use for the American public? Like, national defense, or infrastructre build up, all things that are under the legitimate purview of the government. He is fulfilling yet, another campaign promise, by going after the government largesse and bloated administration that has been a part of every presidential budget proposal in recent decades. This, more than anything else, is what big government progressives are throwing a tantrum about.
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