Views / Opinion

Trump's budget proves there's no way to put all Americans first: Westwood

There are many perils to the way Trump is conducting himself as president, but simplicity might be the scariest.

Congressional staff members, issue advocates and members of AFSME join House Democrats during a news conference to criticize President Donald Trump's proposed federal FY2018 budget on the east side of the U.S. Capitol May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Congressional staff members, issue advocates and members of AFSME join House Democrats during a news conference to criticize President Donald Trump's proposed federal FY2018 budget on the east side of the U.S. Capitol May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The political tornado that is Donald Trump’s presidency took a turn toward the predictable, or at least somewhat recognizable, this week: The president released his first budget.

It’s not hot like a Russian collusion scandal, or spicey like Sean Spicer’s tongue-dancing press conferences, or sizzling like a presidential cover-up.

It’s potentially far, far worse.

As every analysis has noted, a president's budget is only a detailed (if in this case deranged) wish list, the starting point for what will become the new federal budget. And in keeping with Trump’s record thus far, not an especially impressive one.

The budget projects an economic growth rate in the country over the next 10 years — 3 per cent — that few find believable. Its cuts to social programs, including health care, are so severe; even one Republican has called it “draconian.” As analysis by the New York Times illustrates, so little of the federal budget avoids the hatchet job, it’s practically an economic bloodbath. And it projects a rise in tax revenue without accounting for the cost implied in sweeping tax cuts, a move the Washington Post’s Wonkblog dubbed “a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course.”

In other words: exactly the budget document one might expect from likely the least intelligent man to ever hold the oval office, surrounded by right-wing ideologues with frothing disdain for the social safety net. Among the casualties will be poor and disadvantaged Trump voters, along with the usual suspects most egregiously hurt by cuts to social programs, health care and education: women and children, and in particular women and children of colour.

Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, explained it was really a “Taxpayer’s First Budget,” which would undo the evil of taxing people for social programs, which he described as “theft.” It’s a line that’s easy to regurgitate, as was “America First,” in a way that perpetuates a central myth contained within.

In truth, taxpayer isn’t a core, immovable identity. It’s not who someone is (or isn’t). It’s something someone does. Kids (I can’t believe I have to point this out) aren’t taxpayers, but most will become one. And then if they happen to lose their job and go on welfare, well then, they stop being taxpayers. Veterans who’ve had trouble adjusting to civilian life and are now homeless aren’t taxpayers. Those with severe disabilities or ailments that prevent them from working aren’t taxpayers. I hope I don’t need to go on.

There’s also the myth that taxpayers don’t gain from taxation, as if health care funding, for example, doesn’t support services they may need to access. “Taxpayer first” paints everyone not currently paying taxes as money-sucking slobs, to be despised, accused of a crime, and cut loose.

“America First” had a similar deceiving simplicity, suggesting that there’s such a thing as a single American set of goals or priorities, when in fact, as Trump is learning when it comes to global trade, what is good for some Americans is not good for all. Americans aren’t a single demographic who’ll benefit from a simple set of priorities. There’s actually no way to put all Americans first. It requires a balancing act.

There are many perils to the way Trump is conducting himself as president, but simplicity might be the scariest. In avoiding any nuance or detail, in ignoring contradictions, in reducing the most troublesome and challenging aspects of governance to a slogan that is exactly as simple as the policy it describes, Trump offers Americans a shiny promise. A myth that can’t last.

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