Grijalva: Trump’s corrosive proposal to cut the NEA and NEH

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In the short time that Donald Trump has held office, he has proven to be every bit the proverbial bull in a china shop that so many of us saw coming. His border wall will blow a $25 billion hole in the federal budget and is already undermining relations with Mexico, our third largest trading partner in the world. His Muslim ban violates our Constitution and our collective sense of human decency. And his erratic penchant for revenge has businesses across the country facing a new reality: Bend to the president’s whims or face the retribution of an angry tweet, which has already wreaked havoc on the stock prices of a number of U.S. companies.

Amidst Trump’s headline grabbing flirtations with chaos, little attention was paid when he zeroed out funding for the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and Humanities (NEH). At a time when the American people face new threats from this administration on a daily basis, nothing could be more chilling than to see an explicit and intentional effort to suppress self-expression.

{mosads}Arts and humanities are reflections of the health of our democracy. They transmit our heritage and national identity from one generation to the next, and from our people to nations around the world. Most importantly, they project back the actions of our society through the eyes of people who experience them. In this sense, art gives voice and agency to all of us, along with the power to oppose anything — from a policy to a politician — that we disagree with. It is for this reason that we must protect these fields and ensure they remain accessible to everyone.

Artistic expression also has educational and economic benefits, expanding the minds of students while driving tourism and urban renewal. In 2013, a bipartisan, congressionally initiated study conducted by an ideologically diverse, nonpartisan group of business leaders, former elected officials and scholars argued that exposure to humanities is critical for educating our youth. Ironically, it recommended Congress increase funding.

And increase funding is exactly what Congress should do. Funding the arts is something all great nations do. Providing federal resources in turn encourages local support, extends the reach of vital programs, promotes quality and diversity, and encourages entrepreneurship. But compared to our contemporaries, the United States has not been particularly committed to this goal over time. From 2006 to 2010, a total of 3 percent of funding for performing arts came from state or federal sources. All other funding — 97 percent — came from private donations and generated income. It cuts a stark comparison to many of our European allies — Slovenia, for example, provides 99 percent of their arts funding through the government.

This simple fact tells us two things. First, we are already woefully undercutting the arts sectors in this country while knowing full well how beneficial they could be to our society, and we have been for a long time. Second, and perhaps most important, when Donald Trump tells us he is cutting funds for the NEA and NEH to save money, we know he is lying.

We know he is lying because the total amount we allocate to these fields is less than .016 percent of our annual budget. As The Washington Post pointed out, this is the equivalent of a $10 investment for someone earning $50,000 a year. So as a means of saving our nation trillions of dollars, these cuts are meaningless. But as a means of silencing the masses, they are surgically designed for maximum impact.

If Trump’s cuts become a reality, it will not be the end of art or the study of humanities. It will be the end of access to these fields for anyone without the means to afford them. Considering Trump’s policies will fall hard on the poor and on minority communities, these cuts will effectively muzzle the very people most in need of art’s platform. Given this fact, Trump’s proposal to cut off the NEA and NEH are every bit as corrosive to our national character as his border wall or Muslim ban.

Just like so many of Trump’s other toxic policies, the ulterior motives behind these cuts are easy to see. And just like so many of Trump’s other policies, these cuts are thinly veiled attacks on the vulnerable, intended to cut off a reliable channel for their dissent. With each step that this administration takes toward authoritarianism, their attempts to gag opposition become more alarming. If we allow them to turn the power of art and humanities into a privilege for the rich, we will be accomplices to the effective silencing of every non-affluent person in the country. I, for one, refuse to stand by.


Rep. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 3rd District and is a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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