Magazine | April 3, 2017, Issue

Will the U.S. Survive If Big Bird Leaves His Federally Feathered Nest?

The Washington Post says, “President Trump’s budget proposal this week would shake the federal government to its core,” and of course that’s bad. Nothing can be cut. We’re barely scraping by as it is.

Federal employees are living on hardtack and orange peels as it is, shivering around trash-can fires in shantytown shacks. The last time the EPA wanted to make a new regulation that would keep America’s Kids safe, they had to write it in blood on a napkin they took from the local Subway sandwich shop, and because it was a fairly complex regulation, two people fainted and required a transfusion.

What do critics say about Trump’s plan? “Oh God he’s crazy, this man is going to destroy everything and then demand to be carried around D.C. on a gilded litter borne by Breitbart writers so he can spit on — wait, is this mic on? Sorry. Can we start again?”

Interviewer: “Yes. Okay, Senator Flayderiche, you’re a critic of the proposed cuts. What do you say?”

“President Trump has proposed an extreme assault on the government’s constitutional duty to do all the things. If enacted, you can expect small children in distressed cities to start jamming lead chips in their mouth immediately — and that’s just the cuts to the EPA and HUD. If the president cuts money for public broadcasting, you might as well broadcast ISIS videos where they saw off Big Bird’s head.”

Interviewer: “Strong words indeed. Mr. Publius Soodinym is the head of the Center for the American Institute, a think tank based here in Washington. What say you?”

“That’s utterly inaccurate. Big Bird is a puppet whose neck and head are controlled by a small man inside the body; even if ISIS saws off the head, it’s not going to hurt the operator.”

“A provocative assertion. Can you back that up? Can you assure Americans that the future under Trump is not a headless instructional fowl and children so full of lead they can write their name on paper with their finger?”

“Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but let’s say we roll back funding to what it was in the Clinton era. Did Bill Clinton hate the Earth? Was Hillary taking late-night trips to pour liquid cadmium into the Potomac?”

(Cross-talk.)

Repeat until 2018.

The silliest battle to come will be about the Arts. Federal funding for the arts, compared with what’s spent on shoveling money to the populace in the form of Entitlements, is sheer pipsqueakery. The only reason you’d cut federal funding for the Arts is to make a point: This is not the business of government.

Oh, but it is! some say. Why, think back to the ’60s! Life under JFK: a new Camelot of urbane and civilized folk, where our handsome president listens attentively as Pablo Casals bends over his cello.

Reality: JFK is bored out of his mind and looking at the French ambassador’s wife’s legs, but at least Pierre Salinger is tapping his toes.

Now it’s life under Trump: a crass and uncultured lily-gilder whose aesthetic tastes are brash and gaudy. He seems to have no soul for music, and it’s difficult to imagine him watching Death of a Salesman without thinking, “This guy’s pathetic. No wonder he can’t sell anything. And this writer, he was doing Marilyn Monroe? Don’t get me wrong, beautiful woman, a bit too wide for my tastes, okay, but a classic. Reminded me of that Guess jeans model. What was her name?”

And then in the quiet theater, during a moment of tense drama, a voice calls out from the audience: “Anna Nicole Smith, that was it.”

While it would be nice to have a president with Vaclav Havel–level sensibilities, it’s not a requirement. While it would be nice to have a president who could make the case to the American people for the importance of the arts, it’s not his job — and somehow painting and American music flourished in the ’20s even though Coolidge didn’t endorse Cubism or jazz.

Some think that federal arts money goes to small towns to help theater companies put on Our Town for the delight of smiling-through-the-tears rustics who just cain’t believe Jim-Bob from the grain elevator did such a good job, who knew he had it in him? ’Course, the mailman says he gets a lot of bodybuilder magazines, so you never know. But what a show! Thank you, Federal Government!

And some think that the majority of federal grant dollars go to useless, insulting pseudo-art, like projecting a giant picture of female genitalia onto the Hoover Dam. Or paying for a photography exhibit called “The Struggle of My Struggle Is a Struggling Struggle: Trans Voices in 19th-Century Bookkeeping.”

Eh. Probably both. It’s so little money, you think: Would it hurt to keep it up? But despite what Bernie Sanders says, we’re broke. Bernie and his ilk believe that everything can be funded forever if we just get the federal fingers up into the goose that produces magic golden eggs, but to cover our debt that goose would have to shoot out auric orbs like a Gatling gun spits bullets. We’re skint.

So everyone has to give up something he likes while the government gets back to its Core. Hollywood can pitch in: Make an extra Star Wars movie every year and give the money to local arts groups. C’mon, you know they’d love to do it. A few kids would wonder why Darth Vader’s helmet was orange in this one, but you can explain that away.

Evil takes many forms, child. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it seeks to reduce federal employment by 1.8 percent.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

Articles

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Glittering Prizes

The disaster that overtook this year’s Oscar telecast in its closing moments, like so many strange events of the last two years, seemed almost scripted in its wild implausibility.

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

The Limits of Proportional Representation One must wrestle with two related issues when discussing gerrymandering: (1) If a state is divided 60–40 between Party A and Party B, and its ten neatly ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

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Politics & Policy

Poetry

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Culture

Road Trip

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Books

The Maker of Middle-earth, in Gorgeous Detail

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Politics & Policy

Answering my Critics

My post on Elizabeth Warren’s cynical/bonkers proposal to effectively nationalize every American firm with revenue of $1 billion or more has met with predictable criticism. I will address two points here. One, some have complained about the use of the word “expropriation,” or more broadly about ... Read More
Culture

Winslow Homer’s Art, through the Camera Lens

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art's show Winslow Homer and the Camera takes a perceptive, original look at one of America's great art visionaries. It's special for many reasons. It takes a much-considered artist — Homer (1836–1910) is among the gods atop the heap of American artists — and finally makes ... Read More