President Donald Trump revealed what he thinks makes America great in his budget. It is contrary to the vision of our founders, who presented us with the challenges of how to be both free and equal and how to fairly balance these values.
The president responded to this challenge with huge budget increases for the military, and billions in tax cuts for the richest, paid for by harsh funding cuts to programs that affect the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans.
A great America is a fair America. It means equality of household security — housing, food, health care, education, a steady adequate income and safety.
The president wants to cut billions from housing vouchers, end the National Housing Trust, which helps localities create affordable housing, as well as end food stamps for large families (adding work requirements, even though most recipients already work).
He would cut billions from programs for the permanently disabled and the unemployed, as well as $800 billion from Medicaid, health care for the poor. Most of the money is for long-term elder care, especially helpful to working families who often juggle child care and jobs.
He supports health insurance that raises premiums on old people and those with pre-existing conditions, and allows states to cut benefits and exclude birth-control coverage despite evidence that lack of access increases unintended pregnancies.
All of this, touted as freedom of choice in a free market, perpetuates inequalities in health care and the basic conditions for healthful living in American communities.
The president might have realized that what is not measured cannot be used to call government or corporations to account. So, he is also slashing data systems and research in virtually every agency that examines such issues as the condition of minorities, life in rural communities, results of government programs, population counts that guide congressional redistricting, the pace of climate disruption, “clean coal” and renewable energy research.
U.S. data systems and research are renowned and used worldwide. This leadership is in danger as our scientists move elsewhere and other nations move ahead.
The founders recognized that a democracy requires an informed public. That’s why they made free speech and a free press the First Amendment. Information requires judgment based on critical thinking that begins early and is nourished lifelong. The president would remove public funds from schools that are accountable for equal educational opportunities and funnel those funds into voucher programs and private schools, which have few legal standards or public accountability.
He wants to cut job-training programs and grants for low-income college students and student loans. Instead, he supports for-profit colleges, some of which have been prosecuted for fraud.
A great America provides for equal justice under law and tempers justice with mercy. The president would cut hundreds of millions from education, but would spend billions for for-profit detention centers, grant wide discretion for arrests to Border Patrol agents and approve the highest levels of prosecution for non-violent offenses.
A great America uses war as a last resort. The president gives free rein to commanders on the ground in five countries, including Mali – creating potential for war in areas little-known to most Americans. In reversing the democratic principle of civilian control of the military, the president thereby relieves himself of responsibility for endangering troops and civilians — and of blame for failure. Furthermore, he avoids talking about humanitarian needs and building diplomatic alliances to create alternatives to war.
The final budget will go far to determining how fairly freedom and equality will be balanced. Much of the outcome depends on the courage of Republicans to join Democratic senators to reverse presidential priorities.
Nancy Milio, PhD, is a professor emeritus of health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.