This past Thursday, the White House released a discretionary-spending budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. The considerably bold and conservative proposal has driven the media, and the Left generally, into apoplexy. The budget proposes substantial cuts to the administrative state, while simultaneously enlarging defense spending. Of course, the sheer audacity of the president to cut into the waste, fraud, abuse, and incompetence of the federal bureaucracy resulted in waves of condemnation. However, as usual, the arguments, allegations, and fears apropos this proposal are mostly hysterical and vapid.
The most salient budget cuts include the following: the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, the State Department by 29 percent, the Agriculture Department by 21 percent, the Labor Department by 21 percent, the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, the Education Department by 14 percent, the Energy Department by 6 percent, and the Justice Department by 4 percent.
The outcry from the Left, as one would expect, was immediate. They wasted no time in going on the offensive against President Trump’s proposal with emetic defenses of every last penny these agencies receive.
It is no revelation that the Left, ex vi termini, support intricate bureaucracy. But it is important for readers to understand that their visceral and ferocious opposition to this budget proposal goes much deeper. It goes to one of the philosophical and quasi-religious notions to which the Left is wedded, namely that the State, rather than its citizens, is the sole vehicle to societal progress.
As a result of this belief, the federal government has become larger and its scope more expansive by the day. Endeavors once considered the business only of private individuals, organizations, and institutions are now regarded as unfathomable undertakings absent a federal bureaucrat to oversee the process.
Indeed, the Left has so masterfully succeeded in normalizing the massive administrative state that now a great number, perhaps the majority, of Americans have conflated the once sharply-distinct realms of the public and private sectors. Even post-New Deal, many, if not most Americans still had a respectable grasp of the difference in the role of the government and of its citizens. Today, however, norms of thought have been corrupted.
Now, a great number of Americans assume a priori that nothing of significance can be achieved without collective action through the State.
Consequently, the perception has mistakenly become that cuts in federal agencies are repudiations of the noble goals and objectives of said agencies and that these goals suddenly become less achievable with every penny that Congress withholds.
Take the EPA for example. The proposed 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency is a “direct assault on our health and safety” in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle. In actuality, however, the cut is nothing of the sort.
First of all, around 75 percent of the EPA’s expenditures in 2016 were awarded to “grants,” which typically went to Left-wing activist groups and nonprofits. Far from protecting Americans from dirty air and water, these grants are largely used to fund propaganda efforts, such as profligate initiatives launched to teach communities about “environmental justice.”
Secondly, the EPA issues an extraordinarily high number of costly regulations that actively (rather than passively through taxation, the means by which the EPA is ultimately funded) strangle economic growth. From 2005-2016, the agency finalized over 4,400 regulations amounting to $1 trillion and over 750,000,000 paperwork hours.
Yet, amazingly, President Trump’s proposed cut to this extravagance is unconscionable to the Left. In their eyes, a criticism of the EPA is essentially the equivalent of announcing affinity for dirty air and water and a desire to see various species, including humans, eradicated.
To take another example, the budget’s proposed elimination of four art and cultural agencies, like the National Endowment for the Arts, has provoked the ire of the Left, especially the Hollywood elites.
“It seems insane to have to defend the arts but here we are . . .Without science & arts who are we,” actor Josh Gad tweeted last Thursday. Similar comments were made by Rosie Perez, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judd Apatow, and Mark Ruffalo among others.
“Without science & arts who are we?” Gad makes it sound as if Trump has ordered a Nazi-like book bonfire. To be sure, in the eyes of Gad and others of the Left, Trump might as well have done just that. The Left always thinks in terms of the State; ergo, in their mind, absent government subsidies how will there be money for the arts?
How do the Left think that virtuosos like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Louis Armstrong and countless others had their elegant opera discovered without the National Endowment for the Arts?
In any event, conservatives, on the other hand, do not regard the State as a sagacious and omnicompetent possessor of solutions to all of mankind’s problems. On the contrary, they understand that the State’s role should be limited; and when the State is limited, efficiency and excellence may thrive while excesses and extravagance wane.
After all, mankind’s problems often result from the always self-interested actions of humans; so why should we furnish the State, which is made up of self-interested humans, with more power? When an individual or group of individuals makes a mistake, the society can absorb it rather easily. But when the people in charge of an entire nation make mistakes, the society tends to pay rather heavily for them.
Therefore, it is important to ask: “Are our elected and unelected leaders somehow more noble and virtuous than the rest of the populous?” Even if so, how can we assure that political offices, agencies, or bureaucracies, once instilled with enormous power, will not thereafter come to be occupied by the corrupt, ambitious, unethical, or immoral?
While not perfect, President Trump’s budget proposal is a commendable measure, as it attempts to limit the State by reining in America’s inflated fleet of bureaucracies.
However, the budget, as the Left perceives it, is a threat to clean air and water, the arts, education, etcetera. Therefore, the Trump administration should be prepared for a battle à outrance. But the fight is worth fighting, because—as the administrative state reveals with each passing day—more money does not always mean better results and the cognoscente in the bureaucracy do not always know what is best.
— Ross Dubberly is Assistant Editor at THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE and Co-Chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom at UGA.