My grandfather A.B. Bunch always used to tell me, "Never trust the federal budget when it comes with a Nazi-sympathizer slogan on the front cover." OK, actually he said no such thing. But a man who pulled himself up into the middle class during FDR's New Deal and helped Caterpillar Tractor manufacture the arsenal that defeated Hitler in World War II surely would have been appalled if he'd lived to see "America First" -- the slogan of those who pressed to stay neutral while the Nazis were running wild in Europe -- stamped on such an important federal document. I'm here today to be disgusted on his behalf.
Appalling as it is, "America First" is actually a fitting moniker for President Trump's $1.1 trillion spending blueprint that was dumped on the nation early Thursday morning, since it seems to be ripped from headlines of 1935. A massive and uncalled for military buildup, an exorbitantly expensive border wall and an revved-up police state of ICE agents knocking on doors in the middle of the night will be paid for by wrecking all of the things that would have made the United States worth defending with that wall and with the world's largest military in the first place.
Art, culture and the flow of information will be placed on a starvation diet -- their very purpose in American society delegitimized by the Trump regime. Our air and water will grow dirtier and dirtier until the land looks as polluted as it did when my generation was growing up in the 1960s. Coal miners' daughters from West Virginia won't be going to college, because the money that funded their student loans will go to charter school grifters. The so-called "inner cities" that were taunted by Trump in the 2016 campaign with the phrase "What do you have to lose" now know the answer: Heating oil.
And that's not all. The budget takes money from popular programs for the poor and the elderly such as Meals on Wheels, much as a bully swipes lunch money from the outstretched hand of a disabled child. And Trump's billion-dollar boondoggle on the border with Mexico gets paid for by ignoring the real threat to our way of life: Climate change.
You can qualify it all you want, and it's true that no presidential budget has ever been passed by Congress in any form remotely like what the White House initially proposes in the dead of winter. But things are different now. The devastating cuts to college financial aid, legal aid for the poor and Amtrak are the kind of things that get House Speaker Paul Ryan and his hedge fund pals salivating over their $350 bottles of wine, and the Democrats have a lot less juice to stop this juggernaut than they did when Ronald Reagan pitched a similar but much less radical blueprint in 1981. Whatever the final numbers, America's future has just been spelled out in black and white -- a future on a path to becoming a militaristic police state.
The pundits tell us that the real importance of a budget is as a political document. The politics of Trump's document are revolutionary in the worst sense of the word. When we talk about the president's insane Twitter outbursts or his shocking rants calling the media "the enemies of the American people," and we say that Trump is seeking to numb the public and the press, this budget is exactly what they were trying to numb us to. It combines the two worst instincts of the new administration: top adviser Steve Bannon's white nationalism, with a steroids-boosted force of ICE troopers rounding up immigrants and scaring non-whites (and tourists) away from coming here, and Trump's desire to someday review a fleet of gleaming new tanks as they parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, Making America Great Again.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney went before the cameras in the White House briefing room trying to explain the inexplicable. He said that the huge surge in Pentagon spending was necessary to make America a "hard power" in the world again -- whatever that means. At the same time, programs that feed that elderly at lunchtime and underprivileged kids after school simply had to go because they weren't "getting results," since going to bed not hungry apparently isn't a "result" that carries any weight with our corporate overlords. The budget meister also said that funding to air "Sesame Street" does absolutely nothing for the single mom in West Virginia -- thus proving that Mick Mulvaney has never been a single mom in West Virginia. Indeed, the Trump budget is remarkable in the way that it screws over (I believe that's the proper fiscal term) the Trump voter in regions like Appalachia and the Rust Belt, with massive cuts for economic development and for keeping the Great Lakes (which connect the four states that essentially elected Trump -- PA, OH, MI and WI) free from toxic pollution.
But the spending blueprint was never really about Making America Great Again for Trump's 62 million supporters, but rather it seems to be about Making Trump Great In His Own Mind, or in the eternal place that is Fred Trump's elusive approval. How else to explain the $54 billion windfall for the Defense Department or the president's planned increase in nuclear bombs? -- none of which neither the Pentagon brass nor the typical U.S. voter was asking for. Already we've seen the new president signing off on reckless military adventures in Yemen and increased use of drone strikes in ways that Barack Obama -- no pacifist, despite the Nobel Peace Prize dangling from his neck -- would never have approved of.
The playwright Anton Chekhov once famously wrote, "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." No one knows where Chekhov's gun will go off for Trump -- in Syria, or Latvia, or North Korea or the South China Sea. But it will go off.
Because war is just what authoritarians do. So is this budget -- a tinhorn dictator budget, the budget of an immature boy-king who's in love with the cold steel of tanks but has zero empathy for America's humanity, let alone the National Endowment for the Humanities.
On January 21, about 4 million people took to the streets of Washington, Philadelphia and cities all over the world to celebrate that humanity but also to warn a new president not to mess with our basic rights. No one expected the short-fingered vulgarian hiding behind the White House curtains to listen -- and here's proof that he didn't.
For American citizens, the Trump plan is a blueprint not just for opposition but for massive resistance, for levitate-the-Pentagon and stuffing-flowers-down-the-gun-barrels kind of stuff. That's because those 53 pages are nothing less than an instruction manual for dismantling the United States of America as you and I have known it so far. And whatever crazy authoritarian contraption the "blueprint" would actually build is not a structure that any of us would want to live in.