Want the White House to tell you whether or not it’s pardoning a whistleblower? Or take a position on modifying the technology you own? Or explain why America can’t build a Death Star? For the past six years, you could do all these things through We the People, an imperfect but valuable petition system that gave ordinary people a direct line to the president. But we’re over two months into the Trump administration, and it’s not clear whether the system is still active, or what its future holds.
We the People survived Trump’s White House website reorganization, unlike several other government pages, but it’s not in great shape. You can create an account, publish a new petition, or sign an existing one. The page for responses, however, seems to have been removed. Old petitions are accessible through the Obama administration archive, but there’s no sign that Trump’s White House will respond to the seven petitions that reached their 100,000-signature threshold after he took office, including a request to release Trump’s tax returns, two petitions to preserve the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, and one to let American farmers grow industrial hemp. A White House spokesperson did not respond to an email requesting comment.
That’s right, we’re about to go the way of the Romans because we’re not spending enough on bread and circuses. Partly, this is the same Kabuki theater we get every year, in which anything that is not a massive increase is portrayed as a draconian cut. But the main reason people are upset about this budget is because it targets programs that are pretty insignificant in terms of actual spending but are culturally and politically important to anyone who is left of center: public funding for broadcasting, art, and the humanities.
The Trump budget proposes to zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. That’s why Nick Kristof thinks this is the end of civilization, because unless the federal government shunts money to these activities, we all know that they will completely disappear. There will be no more art, no more ideas, no more broadcasting.
Michael Lomax (president of the United Negro College Fund) said 55,000 HBCU students would be affected by elimination of Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and reductions to work-study programs and other federal spending could affect another 26,000 students at these schools and also reduce their chances for future employment.
HBCU schools typically have lower costs, but their students tend to accrue more loan debt than students at other institutions, the United Negro College Fund says. HBCUs enroll nearly 300,000 young women and men — primarily first-generation, low-income minority students — and typically confer about 18 percent of all baccalaureate degrees received by African-American students, even though the HBCU sector constitutes only 3 percent of the country's institutions of higher education.
Other Education Department programs slated for elimination are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Community and Public Service. The latter runs national volunteer programs, including Americorps, which places young people in service positions at nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups nationwide.
Trump has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, making clear that his contempt for education, science and the arts is part of an aggressive project to eliminate those institutions and public spheres that extend the capacity of people to be imaginative, think critically and be well-informed.
The Trump administration has enacted a hiring freeze on government agencies such as the National Park Service (NPS) and has proposed a 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior’s budget, under which the NPS functions. The freeze and threatened budget cuts have already prompted the closure of historic and cultural attractions.
Independence National Historic Park, located in historic Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, has been forced to close seven sites, including some prestigious places such as the Declaration House, where American Revolutionary Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, exhibits at founding father Ben Franklin’s home and print shop, and the house of the Polish-Lithuanian military leader, Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Amenities near Independence Hall, including bathrooms, have been shut down because the NPS can’t hire any workers to clean them. Visitors, including the elderly and children, will now be directed to bathrooms that may be located at considerable distances from the sites they are visiting.
Citing NPS sources, Bob Skiba, former president of Philadelphia Tour Guides, told Philly.com that the hiring freeze was the main cause of the closings, and that it is not yet clear whether they will be temporary or permanent.
“When a group comes to the mall, people spend an hour and a half to two hours on tours—and as a tour guide, when I bring people around, I’m not just showing them the sites. I’m telling them stories,” he said. “And [now] I don’t have pieces of the story available.”