One of the many targets of the Trump budget blueprint is funding for arts and humanities, primarily those Great Society high brow relics, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The president intends to succeed where previous Republicans, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, failed to do, in eliminating these subsidies. The argument for doing so has never been more reasonable.
Each of the endowments cost about $150 million. As George Will points out, voluntary contributions to arts and culture causes in the United States is about $17 billion a year, dwarfing government largess. If the endowments were to go away as the Trump administration wants, the difference should easily be made up.
The CPB costs about $445 million a year, a small portion of the money that public television and public radio get. In a media environment that includes the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the Science Channel, the idea of public broadcasting should be obsolete in any case. The supporters of public broadcasting cannot even accuse Trump of wanting to kill #Big Bird, one of the characters of “Sesame Street.” Big Bird and his friends absconded to HBO several years ago, the big, fat, yellow feathered capitalist that he is.
The other argument that defenders of the NEA, the NEH, and public broadcasting make is that the money these institutions spend is so minuscule why bother to try to zero them out. The combined funding would not pay for even one stealth bomber. The persistent defense of publically funded art coupled with the tiny amount of money spent, relatively speaking, serves to wear lawmakers down and make them give up.
But a principle is involved here. Do we really want government bureaucrats to decide what is art and what is not? To be sure everyone can point to a favorite show on National Public TV, say Ken Burns’ “Civil War.” But just as many atrocities exist that people have been forced to pay for as well, like “Piss Christ” to name just one example. Perhaps it is time to recognize that there should be a separation between the arts and the state.