President Donald Trump’s debut budget proposal is a stark declaration of war on the future of the American economy that substitutes a curious mix of ideology and blind nostalgia for any effort to think critically about the actual needs of a 21st-century nation.
The war starts with reducing spending — even though an aging population, plus the government’s role in inherently labor-intensive activities like education and long-term care, militates overwhelmingly in favor of a somewhat larger role for the state. But it continues with the priorities Trump set for where the remaining cash gets spent.
The picture that emerges is overwhelmingly one of nostalgia — more money for men with guns, less money for education, caring, and pointy-headed science. But nostalgia is not memory. The midcentury economy Trump yearns for was, almost by definition, less technologically advanced and educationally intensive than today’s.
But it was an extraordinarily forward-looking time. Propelled by the imperatives of Cold War competition, the United States made investments on an unprecedented scale in institutions dedicated to education and research, while engaging in massive public-private partnerships to disseminate then-new technological marvels like cars, phones, and televisions.
Trump’s budget doesn’t imitate the past; it simply looks backward to it in a way that postwar Americans never would. The government’s manly men — the ones with guns, mostly — get more cash. Programs aimed at effeminate or pointy-headed undertakings like educating children get cut. Not just in obvious places like the Department of Education, either. Little educational programs in departments from State to NASA are getting zapped. Job training is in line for cuts, along with K-12 schooling and college education for the disadvantaged.
Scientific research — whether at Energy, NOAA, the NIH, or anywhere else — is out. Trump’s America will give up on the dream of becoming a world leader in generating clean electricity or manufacturing the advanced batteries that store it. His statements on automobile fuel efficiency regulations make it clear that we won’t be operating on the cutting edge there, either.
Once the Environmental Protection Agency is gutted by cuts of over 25 percent, after all, we’ll all be able to get good-paying jobs in coal mines and won’t miss the skill- and technology-driven future Trump is destroying.