The president is taking a media beating for proposing a 100 percent cut for public broadcasting. Placing the big yellow bird and the big orange politician in the same panel is just too juicy for the cartoonists to resist.
These images may be one reason the president’s approval rating has sunk to 37 percent, the lowest for any administration this early in the term since the polls starting in the 1940s.
Now you could make the case that at up to $3 million a pop in public cost, Trump’s mini vacations to his Florida golf shangri-la nearly every weekend would fill a lot of potholes on Sesame Street.
(Remember the campaign, when Trump repeatedly slammed Obama’s golf outings? The promises that he “would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done” and “would not be a president who took vacations?” I count five trips to his private Mar-A-Lago club since taking office January 20, nine golf outings in his first seven weeks in office, and now seven consecutive weekends in which he fled the White House for stays in some Trump-branded property. In about two months, the president’s travel costs are approaching Obama’s average for a year.)
However, to be fair, the fact is that Trump budget cuts would not, as is widely being claimed, kill the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
What he would eliminate would be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an agency, which helps fund public broadcasters nationwide. But CPB funds are in truth only a small portion of the funding for PBS and NPR. Most of the agency’s money goes to local public broadcasters, not PBS.
Nor is Trump killing Big Bird, despite the cartoons to the contrary. Sesame Street moved to HBO some time ago, with PBS only picking up episode replays. No doubt the show would survive just fine.
With hundreds of cable channels out there begging for content, the more popular PBS shows like Downtown Abby, Sherlock and Masterpiece would no doubt find new homes if public broadcasting was gone.
There’s some incredible stuff on PBS that would be tragic to risk losing, but with the sublime comes the ridiculous - many of us might manage to survive without a dose of “Great British Baking Show,” “Tales From the Royal Wardrobe” or “Your Inner Fish.”
PBS isn’t exactly a charity case, either. In addition to donations, what was once independent of advertiser pressures has for several years now trimmed product to recognize corporate sponsors such as Mercedes Benz.
That doesn’t mean we should agree with the cut.
I just watched my grandson hugging his beloved new Elmo doll, his second birthday present. It’s probably fair to say that Elmo has done more positive things for children than Trump has in their respective tenures. And public radio is a go-to preset in my old Jeep - it’s more objective than cable news and far more ambitious in world coverage than dumbed-down network news.
This is where the rubber meets the road - Trump has to deliver budget cuts to cover the corporate tax cuts and military buildup he has promised to the core that still supports him.
Public broadcasting isn’t the only thing on the chopping black, in fact, 19 agencies would face extinction in the same proposal that is causing the PBS fuss, including the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts. But killing all 19 would reduce the budget only about $3 billion, which is a mere 6 percent of the $54 billion Trump wants to add in military spending. (Yes I did learn math from watching Sesame Street).
All of the federal spending on all of the cultural programs, public broadcasting included, amounts to something like 0.16 percent of the budget. Killing it would do next to nothing to fix the budget, and if it seems to you more like a vindictive Trump slap in the face to artsy-fartsy libbies, I’m not arguing.
Public broadcasting costs about about 11 cents a month per citizen. If there’s anything the government touches that seems like a bargain, that would be it. And keep in mind that the last president who tried to dismantle it was Dick Nixon. That should tell you something.
There’s more than Big Bird to worry about there. Trump targets include the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Corporation for National and Community Service that among other things organizes AmeriCorps workers, the agency that provides legal help for the poor, the Council on Homelessness, the Institute of Peace (signed into law by Ron Reagan, no less), the U.S. Trade and Development Agency that works for U.S. exports, the International Center for Scholars, the Chemical Safety Board, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation - programs that do a lot for a relatively modest amount of money.
In jeopardy are energy-efficiency programs, domestic violence prevention, civil rights programs, Meals on Wheels, after-school programming.
Indeed there is fat and pork-barrel politics in the budget that Trump would be wise to cut. But the arts, AmeriCorps students, nutrition for the elderly, programs that are making a difference for the schools are not expenses, they are investments in our own society. Some of these programs date as far back as the Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson eras, and once they are gone, they would not be likely to return.
A strong military is a worthy goal for the president, but we also have to remember what we are out to protect, our way of life.
We had best use some wisdom to see not just what such cuts can save, but what they could cost.