How Trump’s Arts and Research Cuts Hurt His Supporters

Trump’s budget poses a particular threat to those who voted for him.

Susan J. Douglas April 14, 2017

Coal country residents like Jeremy Smith, 24, and his four-month-old daughter, Cynthia, will be hurt by Trump’s budget. (The Washington Post)

I must have missed some­thing in Trump’s slash and burn bud­get pro­pos­al.” Remem­ber his repeat­ed cam­paign promise to rebuild the country’s erod­ing infra­struc­ture? Not a peep about that.

For a macho guy with a hard-on for national security and economic growth, Trump appears clueless about the role that research plays in making and keeping America “first.”

Instead, and in line with his mono­ma­ni­a­cal assault on facts, Trump and his craven advis­ers” are deter­mined to dis­man­tle the nation’s research infra­struc­ture, from the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) to the research and devel­op­ment branch­es of the Depart­ment of Ener­gy (DOE) and the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA), which pro­vide crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion for mit­i­gat­ing and adapt­ing to cli­mate change and oth­er eco­log­i­cal perils.

For a macho guy with a hard-on for nation­al secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic growth, Trump appears clue­less about the role that research plays in mak­ing and keep­ing Amer­i­ca first,” as well as secure. The Unit­ed States has been a world­wide leader in research and devel­op­ment, invest­ing the most mon­ey in it and pro­duc­ing the most advanced degrees in sci­ence and engi­neer­ing. But guess who’s nip­ping at our heels, increas­ing invest­ment, espe­cial­ly in sci­ence, while ours stalls? Chi­na, Trump’s bête noir.

Dec­i­mat­ing our infor­ma­tion infra­struc­ture fur­ther deprives pro­gres­sives and inde­pen­dents of the data and knowl­edge they need to counter rightwing pro­pa­gan­da — in par­tic­u­lar, cli­mate denial­ism. Trump’s scorched-earth bud­gets for the EPA, NASA and the Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion aim to kneecap cli­mate sci­ence by defund­ing Earth-observ­ing satel­lites, data cen­ters and the sci­en­tists who work there,” notes my col­league Paul Edwards, author of A Vast Machine: Com­put­er Mod­els, Cli­mate Data and the Pol­i­tics of Glob­al Warm­ing. If there’s no research doc­u­ment­ing envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, then there’s no data sup­port­ing the need for reg­u­lat­ing cor­po­rate polluters.

But the great irony here is that these cuts will espe­cial­ly hurt those in states that went for Trump. Not that this will both­er the pres­i­dent, Ban­non and Co. After all, enforced igno­rance — cou­pled with man­u­fac­tured lies and mis­in­for­ma­tion — pre­vents Trump­sters from see­ing how they will be utter­ly screwed.

Some pro­posed cuts to our infor­ma­tion infra­struc­ture aim at long-lust­ed-after Repub­li­can tar­gets: Trump wants to elim­i­nate the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing, the Nation­al Endow­ments for the Arts and Human­i­ties, and the Insti­tute of Muse­um and Library Ser­vices. While these cuts may pan­der to the anti-“liberal elite” sen­ti­ments of Trump’s base, these insti­tu­tions do not only, or even pri­mar­i­ly, serve Chardon­nay drinkers and arugu­la eaters. Rur­al areas, espe­cial­ly, rely on these agen­cies for pub­lic TV and radio, access to the­ater, music and art, and libraries — often the main source of inter­net access in remote areas.

Still oth­er pro­posed cuts could evis­cer­ate sci­en­tif­ic research of cru­cial inter­est to Trump vot­ers. Many of them are less edu­cat­ed, live in rur­al areas with poor health out­comes, and live in pol­lut­ed areas, like coal coun­try. EPA research affects them, as it mea­sures and mon­i­tors air qual­i­ty, exam­ines the links between air pol­lu­tion and heart dis­ease and stroke, and research­es water qual­i­ty and con­t­a­m­i­nants in water sup­plies, includ­ing after nat­ur­al or man­made dis­as­ters. The states with the great­est num­ber of severe thun­der­storms (Okla­homa, Kansas) and hur­ri­canes (Texas, Flori­da) all went for Trump.

The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, mean­while, con­ducts stud­ies on pover­ty, food deserts and child­hood obe­si­ty, which dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affects kids in rur­al areas. The NIH devel­ops and col­lects epi­demi­o­log­i­cal research essen­tial to Trump vot­ers, inves­ti­gat­ing new ways to screen for lung can­cer, how diet affects the risk of heart dis­ease or stroke, and inter­ven­tions to reduce alco­hol use among rur­al youth.

The Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion stud­ies and makes rec­om­men­da­tions about safe­ty and bul­ly­ing in K‑12 schools, the use of drugs and alco­hol in schools, and ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion and school readi­ness, all of which can espe­cial­ly affect kids in rur­al and dein­dus­tri­al­ized areas.

Trump’s sup­port­ers may believe that sci­en­tif­ic research is either bogus or unnec­es­sary. But in the case of his pro­posed bud­get cuts, igno­rance is not bliss. It is dan­ger­ous and even lethal to indi­vid­u­als and our nation­al health, safe­ty and security.

Susan J. Dou­glas is a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and a senior edi­tor at In These Times. Her forth­com­ing book is In Our Prime: How Old­er Women Are Rein­vent­ing the Road Ahead..
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