Abraham Lincoln, the first U.S. president from the Republican party, famously asked: “What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”
Photo via Pixabay labeled for reuse under the Creative Commons license.
Though Lincoln projects his distaste towards fidelity to the age-old, his fundamental impression of American conservatism is unquestionably valid. As Russell Kirk put it in his “Six Canons of Conservatism,” conservatism denotatively is the “recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but...a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”
At first glance, President Trump’s budget proposal seems every bit as extreme and destructive as Trump himself — promoting a 10 percent increase in defense spending, a 31 percent budget cut to the E.P.A., a complete elimination of nearly 20 smaller independent agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Legal Services Corporation and a 28 percent reduction in the State Department’s budget, according to the Associated Press.
Infographic by Jackie Sussman '17
Full disclosure: I disagree with a lot of these decisions. Unlike many on the right, I believe in investing to make a greener country, support the majority of the independent agencies of which Trump would like to defund and believe that the Trump administration would benefit from increasing spending on cultural diplomacy initiatives.
But the more interesting focus on Trump’s budget proposal centers not on the programs he is cutting, but why he is cutting them. Rather than attacking just the excesses of government discretionary spending, Trump’s budget proposal reflects an ideological assault on big government — and that’s an idea I can get behind.
Infographic by Jackie Sussman '17; information from usgovernmentspending.com.
Trump is a sexist, a xenophobe, a racist and more. These facts cannot be ignored in any analysis of his behavior and political priorities. But he is also exactly what Lincoln and Kirk described: someone who acts with a certain skepticism that allows him to make effective change by minimizing government intervention rather than throwing money at problems our nation faces. Such is why, of all the programs he proposed to slash budgets, Trump decided to increase spending in the most fundamental purposes of government: defense, homeland security and veterans affairs. He has sent the message that the role of government should be limited to protection and little else; as a devout libertarian objectivist, I don’t disagree.
Though Trump’s budget proposal has met with considerable apprehension on both sides of the aisle, politicians have failed to ask one simple question: have the changes that have been made beyond just the past eight years been effective innovation? For some, yes; for others, no.
Mick Mulvaney; Image via Wikipedia labeled for reuse under the Creative Commons license.
Mick Mulvaney, director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, has faced criticism for a seemingly oversimplified test of the benefits of a government program. But his test is a legitimate one: how can the government ask a coal miner, an auto worker or a single mother to pay for certain programs that are wholehearted wastes of money?
As Mulvaney told Politico Magazine, “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
Trump’s proposal mostly tackles the “administrative state.” As Politico Magazine stated, in targeting “boondoggles” like the Essential Air service, Trump deserves credit; Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense rightly pointed out that these “outrageous subsidies” have “outlived their purpose.”
However, what has also “outlived their purpose” are entitlement programs such as Social Security, which Trump refused to touch according to the New York Times.
Infographic by Jackie Sussman '17
Such a refusal is a mistake. The proportion of U.S. workers to Social Security beneficiary has fallen from 41.9 in 1945 to 2.9 in 2010 according to the Mercatus Center from George Mason University; essentially this means that workers have had to pay significantly more of their annual wages to benefit just one retiree. Center to the Republican platform is the idea of being entitled to nothing, that citizens build their future rather than it being handed to them. Of all the programs to support dismantling and reforming, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should have been number one. Trump is far from perfect, and this is just one in a series of his mistakes.
I am not a Trump supporter. If I could vote, I would’ve voted for Hillary Clinton. But despite his mistakes, despite his character faults, despite his crassness, I cannot help but feel optimistic about the future. Trump’s budget proposal ultimately reflects a great willingness to squeeze out the unnecessary and zoom in on the necessary, creating a more efficient government and overall better future.
Au contraire to Lincoln’s earlier quote, perhaps it is time to test the new and untried rather than adhering to the old and tried with Trump’s budget proposal. Who knows? Maybe it will truly make America great again.
Tags: Trump, budget proposal, politics, government, conservatism