Donald Trump ran for office promising to crush the Islamic State, end the influx of illegal immigration from Mexico, and stop the flight of American manufacturing jobs to China. Now that he’s in office, he seems to be focusing on different set of targets: Public television’s “Big Bird,” poor old people who benefit from “Meals on Wheels,” and history graduate students and scholars of the Founding Fathers who get grants from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). Some reports even had the Trump administration slashing funding for the Coast Guard. What’s going on here?
The Trump “budget cuts” are best understood in the context of Trump’s home city, New York, suggests Ira Stoll. There, for decades, the mayor would propose draconian “cuts” to popular institutions like museums and libraries, the museums and libraries would dutifully rally their constituencies to fight against the proposed “cuts,” and the City Council would intervene to restore the funding, winning the gratitude of those that had been targeted. This was widely and correctly understood as a kind of theater. No funding was genuinely in jeopardy, other than the personal funds of the taxpayers who wound up eventually footing the bill for the government spending. The mayor got to pose as fiscally prudent. And the City Council got to claim credit for protecting the museums and libraries, which had never really been in danger.