President Donald Trump has seemingly spent his first months in office working to debunk the tired media narrative that he is somehow a "populist." The proposed budget released by the Trump White House this week should put another nail in the coffin of the "populist" trope.
It’s a $1.1 trillion blueprint to effectively eviscerate some government agencies, and one that rips away huge sections of the country’s social safety net in a way that hasn’t been attempted before in modern American history.
And no, the dark and disturbing budget proposal is definitely not “populist.” (Definition: “To represent the interests of ordinary people.”) Not when you consider that its dystopian goals include:
*Abolishing the Department of Housing and Urban Development block grant program that helps fund Meals on Wheels for the elderly.
*Gutting a program “that helps poor families pay their heating bills.”
*Eliminating a State Department program “which sends food to poor countries hit by war or natural disasters.”
*Ending a Labor Department initiative that “has helped more than 1 million people 55 and older find jobs.”
*Getting rid of the Department of Transportation subsidy that supports flights to rural airports.
*Abolishing the environmental cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.
So no, Trump’s not a “populist.”
The good news? Media outlets did a solid job detailing all of the massive cuts included in Trump’s sweeping proposal. The downside was the radical cuts were sometimes couched as being not that unusual.
You’d never understand the radical nature of Trump’s budget by reading this CNN lede:
President Donald Trump released a $1.1 trillion budget outline Thursday that proposes a $54 billion increase in defense spending and corresponding cuts to non-defense spending at the State Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the wholesale elimination of other federal programs.
This budget proposal represents the administration’s extremist, even fanatical, priorities, and it ought to be covered that way, without apology.
How else do you describe a budget that slashes the State Department’s spending by nearly one-third, the National Institutes of Health’s budget by nearly one-fifth, and reduces the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding to its lowest levels in four decades? The budgetary slaughter goes on and on and on.
Trump wants to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, even though its budget of $300 million represents an infinitesimal percentage of the $1.1 trillion the government spends each year.
Yet look at this exchange from MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday between contributor Mark Halperin and Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney:
MARK HALPERIN: Director Mulvaney, obviously sometimes people look at these cuts and they say, "the sky is falling." But can you talk about where you’re concerned that perhaps some of these cuts may hurt Americans' lives? If anywhere?
MICK MULVANEY: Um, no. I think we’re actually doing exactly what we said to do to protect Americans. So we’re spending more money, for example, on the border. We’re spending more money on law enforcement generally.
After setting aside the idea that Herculean cutbacks being proposed mean “the sky is falling,” Halperin asked Mulvaney if the reductions would hurt Americans. Mulvaney answered by noting the government was spending money to build a wall along the Mexican border.
MSNBC’s Willie Geist did ask Mulvaney about eliminating after-school programs for children, but the budget director basically waved off any concerns. The soft interview ended with co-host Mika Brzezinski marveling over the fact that years ago Mulvaney worked security at her Georgetown University dorm.
So no, not exactly unbridled questioning for Mulvaney regarding Trump’s radical scheme.
Meanwhile, when Mulvaney faced reporters in the White House press briefing room yesterday, NBC’s Peter Alexander did ask pointed questions about the to-the-bone budget cuts and eliminations, especially for after school programs. But Alexander mostly proved to be exception in the room.
If Trump’s team is proudly advocating an unabashedly fanatical budget (and they are), journalists shouldn’t shy away from reporting the truth. Journalism is about describing what you see and hear in front of you every day.
Note that some of the coverage has been accompanied with a bit of a shoulder shrug because lots of journalists assume Trump’s proposed budget can’t pass through Congress. Therefore, the pitched eviscerations don’t really matter because they won’t be enacted.
But they do matter and they shouldn’t be soft peddled. They matter because the deeply destructive cuts represent who Trump is and what his spiteful agenda stands for.