From the safety of Air Force One en route from Tel Aviv to Rome, President Trump dropped his FY 2018 budget on Washington, D.C., and sent OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to run point on the ground. They like to talk about it as a "hard power" budget. What they don't like to talk about are the consequences of unleashing such firepower on the American public.
Make no mistake about it, this budget is the realization of several decades' travail by small-government conservatives. As Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, famously put it, they want to shrink the federal government to the size that they can drown it in a bathtub. So when you hear President Trump and his surrogates pivot from "hard power" to expressing their heartfelt concerns for taxpayers first, think about where that idea comes from. Their messaging is rooted not in a concern for taxpayers as people who need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, safe jobs and good schools, or social safety nets to help them out in hard times. No, their messaging is rooted in the abstraction of personal financial wealth untethered from the social compact upon which our country and modern western civilization are built.
Hard power and bathtub drownings once seemed like the fevered dreams of the far right, but they are now the preferred policy of the highest elected official in the United States. Many who have spent their careers in the swampy summers of our nation's capital will spend the next few days reassuring us that even the president's own party is unwilling to go along with the draconian cuts he has proposed. But that is cold comfort when we take into account the simple fact that these same people we are supposed to rely upon to protect vital institutions like EPA, FDA, and the Departments of Labor and Interior just got through rubber-stamping nominations for agency leaders who have never shown any real desire to promote the missions of those agencies and have most likely pledged some sort of loyalty oath to Mr. Trump.
So whether it is by dint of ineffectual leadership or insufficient resources, we are headed down a path toward hollow government reminiscent of the days before a cultural revolt demanded federal action to protect people from noxious air and filthy water, unsafe products, adulterated food, and dangerous workplaces. Sadly and not coincidentally, the people who will suffer most are those who lack a strong political voice – particularly in this administration, where the president surrounds himself with people who exude the same white male powerbroker image he sees in the mirror.
Don't expect to see energy task forces made up of poor black and Latino children or the elderly, who suffer asthma attacks when ozone levels are too high.
Workforce innovation concepts aren't coming from the construction workers, nurses, miners, or migrant farmworkers who suffer injuries and illnesses at high rates because workplace safety laws are outdated and underenforced.
Infrastructure development, if it happens, won't account for rising seas, sinking land, and the struggles of small communities at the water's edge.
And nobody will be around to hear concerns raised by fenceline communities who suffer a pollution body burden the likes of which Mr. Trump's friends from suburban mansions and downtown penthouses have never conceived.
No, the millions of U.S. residents who rely on the federal government to be a force for progress and protection will be left to suffer the consequences of this administration's depraved indifference to their struggles. But there is hope, because if we learned anything last November, it's that the American public will not abide a ruling party that appears dissociated from them and beholden to the corporate class.