February 20, 2017

Why we Must Act Now to Defend the Arts, CPB & NPR against Trump.

*Editor’s Notes:

“Stop covering politics,” some of our dear readers cry every time we post something relephant. Look: politics are life. Equal rights, empathy, fair economy, healthcare. We can’t ignore what’s happening, and you shouldn’t either.

Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and cannot possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here


Donald Trump’s team is considering astonishing cuts to the federal agencies that support the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting.

Under team Trump’s plan, the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public television, public radio, and PBS, would be privatized.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which offer grants for artistic and educational productions, exhibitions, research, and more, would be eliminated entirely.

All of this would account for just .55 percent of the $10.5 trillion that Trump’s administration hopes to slash from the budget, according to Michael Linden, policy and research director at the Hub Project. 

The cuts and eliminations closely follow the plans of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has an inordinate influence on Trump operatives. In the past, Ronald Reagan hoped to eliminate the NEA when he took office in 1981, and Newt Gingrich attempted to kill it again in the mid 1990s. Richard Nixon tried, but failed, to eliminate funding for the CPB. In 2012, George Romney advocated defunding National Public Radio (NPR).

Why do conservatives want to defund federal support of the arts?

“NEA had funded artists who either brought attention to the AIDS crisis (Wojnarowicz), invoked religious freedoms (Serrano) or explored feminist and LGBTQ issues (Mapplethorpe and four performance artists).

Controversial artists push the boundaries of what art does, not just what art is; in these cases, the artists were able to powerfully communicate social and political issues that elicited the particular ire of conservatives.” ~ Aaron D. Knochel, Assistant Professor of Art Education, Pennsylvania State University

As for programs that partially depend on government funding found on PBS and NPR, conservatives see a liberal slant to the news and the arts that are funded by the NEA as “elitist and liberal.” A study by Fredrick Mann, commissioned by the conservative NPR head, was deeply flawed, saying that “red-blooded” conservatives such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) were classified as “liberal” and “anti-administration” apparently for briefly expressing views that differed from the Bush administration’s policies.

As a regular listener of NPR and CPB news, I find that there may be a slight liberal bias. But, to use the PBS Newshour as an example, there is much more solid, in-depth reporting there than on the cable news channels. The same goes for many NPR news programs.

As for arts partially funded by the federal government, they are perhaps elitist. When John Ashcroft was a Missouri senator, he once complained: “The average guy (who) wants to go down and see Garth Brooks at the country concert, he doesn’t get a federal subsidy. But the silk-stocking crowd wants to go to watch the ballet or the symphony orchestra—they get a subsidy.”

That statement is typical of much of the criticism of the NEA funding for the arts.

I believe that conservatives don’t have much use for art, because:

“The arts matter…they are the one thing on this planet with the power to change a person’s perspective, mood, assumptions, beliefs, and ideas; they can transform a place, represent a community, take you back in time, or move your forward into the future; help a person understand from where they came and where they are headed and grapple with the beauty and uncertainty of all that occurs in between—nothing else in the world has that kind of power and responsibility.” ~ Meg Brennan 

Art causes trouble.

The arts are a menace to anti-intellectuals like Donald Trump and much of the GOP base.

Many conservatives argue that many areas like climate science, evolution, women’s studies, gender studies, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, and postmodern studies are either completely bogus or, at best, a waste of time and money. The arts challenge such beliefs.

If we define the term “intellectual” as a person who engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about the reality of society, and proposes solutions for the normative problems of that society, we can see why much of the GOP doesn’t want the government to fund the arts.

The British playwright, Harold Pinter, offers a different perspective. He believes that the artist is one who seeks the truth, and argues that,

“Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [seeking to find the truth] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

I find that this statement applies to any politicians who would censor the arts that, I believe, make us free. I suppose Pinter’s statement applies to most politicians. I also agree with George Orwell, who said:

“Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

As the United States seems to be headed toward some kind of totalitarian government or tin pot oligarchy, we should heed this quote from Michael O’Brien, which relates to the issue of arts defunding:

“As power extends its grasp into wider and wider rings of human life it becomes more hostile to everything outside of itself. As it becomes near absolute it grows increasingly negative, because by its very nature it must oppose what cannot be extinguished in men’s beings.

Totalitarian power does not rest content with obedience and a passive populace. It must seek at some point to destroy the inner impulse to creativity, which depends for its well being on freedom from manipulation. It must find and erase all resistance, all spiritual autonomy, all dignity in its subjects.”

The impulse to creativity must be nurtured, not thwarted.

We can call our Senators and Representatives to ask them to take the leadership in opposing eliminating the NEA, and NEH, and cutting back on funds for the CPB and PBS. Two methods are the most effective: An actual meeting at the politician’s office and/or a telephone call to a “case worker” or “legislative assistant.” Emails and letters are much less effective.

We can also write letters to the editors of newspapers to get attention to the issue and influence public opinion. With people all over the country demanding town meetings from their representatives in Congress, we can attend such meetings and carry signs, which say “No Cuts to Arts Funding and Public Broadcasting.”

Another possibility to influence public awareness and opinion on the matter is by attending meetings of our local Democratic or Republican club and speaking out.

Today’s conservatives seem to me to be moving further from the Republican party of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr and closer to that of racists, fake populists, and right-wing evangelical fundamentalists.

The barbarians are at the gates. We must act now.


Author: Keith Shirey

Image: m01229/ Flickr

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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