A Trump attack on the arts would be more than just symbolic

Philip Kennicott writes: For months now, the debate in the arts world has been: Will he really do it? Will Donald Trump be the president who finally gives the right wing what it has so vehemently craved for decades, the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts? A report in The Hill suggests that pessimists, who assumed the worst once it became clear that Trump’s election would likely empower organizations like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were right. He may indeed try to kill it.

And the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as cutting the federal appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The animus against these organizations has been so powerful for so long that defending them feels almost pro forma, a reflexive rhetorical blast into the headwinds of an anti-arts bias so deep that there’s little hope of changing anyone’s mind (“The NEA is welfare for cultural elitists,” declares the Heritage Foundation, sententiously).

Never mind the old arguments, still valid and cogent, but somehow threadbare from long use in what many people have long and fatalistically assumed is a losing battle. Despite the culture war clashes about art that some considered obscene more than a generation ago, the NEA has evolved into an organization that operates and has impact in every state, that has served returning veterans, bolstered state arts agencies and worked with all manner of groups and state and federal partners to build stronger and more resilient communities across the country. Never mind the role the NEH has played in the creation of documentaries and the education and enrichment of teachers who might not otherwise have a chance to escape the grinding cycle of teaching to the tests, which never stop coming. Never mind that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting creates the best and most enriching programming for children that is widely available without cost to the poor and the isolated.

No one knows what Trump will do until he actually does it, so perhaps someone will get his ear and deflect support for these cuts–so minimal in real dollar terms, so significant in symbolic impact. But let’s assume they’re coming. What do they tell us? [Continue reading…]

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