We recently watched Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way and were reminded how far America has come in the past 50 years, but also how quickly that progress is now threatened to be unravelled. Last week’s celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. had its counterpoint in the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.
Many do not realize that the National Endowment for the Humanities got its start when President Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law in 1965. As recently as 2010 Congress supported the National Endowment for the Arts , saying among other things:
“The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative, are also appropriate matters of concern to the Federal Government.
An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.
Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.
It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the arts by local, State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations. In doing so, the Government must be sensitive to the nature of public sponsorship. Public funding of the arts and humanities is subject to the conditions that traditionally govern the use of public money. Such funding should contribute to public support and confidence in the use of taxpayer funds. Public funds provided by the Federal Government must ultimately serve public purposes the Congress defines.”
It’s that last sentence that give me the most concern. Last Thursday Alexander Bolton of The Hill wrote that the Trump team was preparing for dramatic cuts: “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.”
Brian Darling, a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation was quoted in The Hill saying: “The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget.”
Perhaps these independent agencies will survive and even flourish under privatization as they have the support of many foundations and the public. They don’t have large budgets ($150 million for NEA), but they do symbolically represent a broader commitment of our Nation to truth and quality of life that are essential in a civilization.
It’s a time to use our brains, get creative and heed the advice of Masha Gessen who offers 6 Rules to Survive an Autocracy:
Hear more on Slate’s Jason Weisberg interview of Masha Gessen. Don’t accept the new normal. “Resistance – stubborn, uncompromising outrage – should be” normal.