Like sand in an hourglass, Donald Trump continues to turn the world upside down in the hope of returning the country to the past. In the footsteps of former president, Ronald Regan, he uses his proposed budget to starve from existence the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), products of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society agenda. As conservative commentator George Will (Click) explains, people of his ilk suspect these organizations because no one can explain their public purpose. Unlike soy beans or cattle, art defies definition and so its value is undeterminable. (“Artless,” by Ted Genoways, Mother Jones, Sept/Oct, 2017 pg. 62.)
Of course, art’s inscrutability is its virtue. As novelist Marie Myung-Ok Lee (Click) observes, art explores the messy and complex, making it difficult to shape into propaganda – a form of expression which tyrants like Stalin or Moa Zedong or Kim-Jong-un prize.
Ironically, when Trump targets funding for the NEA and NEH, he wounds his political base. According to writer Ted Genoways, 40% of the money slotted to these two organizations goes to state art and humanity councils. Top among those beneficiaries are states that voted for Donald Trump: Alaska, North and South Dakota , Wyoming and Montana. (Ibid Pg. 62.)
Compared to military spending, money for the arts is barely a blip in the federal budget. To suggest the NEA and NEH must be sacrificed to balance the budget is a silly argument. It’s like asking people on the planet to hold their breaths for one second to reduce air pollution.