One recent Saturday, Martin Dreiling, an architect in Healdsburg and an assistant scout master of Boy Scout Troop 21, took his Scouts on what he called a “government hike.” Similar to a nature hike, they were encouraged to see things they often overlook in our surroundings. But in this case, they focused on human-made contributions.
“I showed them everything from panic hardware (a type of door opening mechanism that allows users to exit quickly in an emergency) to fresh drinking water, to gutters, to City Hall, the library and the plaza where free speech is possible,” he said in an email. He also pointed to the sky noting how even the color and quality of the air would be different without certain laws.
“I spent hours explaining why we had so much government, about how every rule, every act, every piece of public reality was a response to someone’s desire for good,” he said. “ I told them that the things they hear that make government sound crazy aren’t crazy when you find out why it is and who it’s for.”
That “who” is often us.
“They were blown away, excited, wide-eyed and somehow changed,” he said. “It never occurred to them how hard people work at civilization.”
Later that night, he was having dinner with some other families when one of his Scouts told the parents about the outing. “We hiked around and saw how government was everywhere,” he said.
“I know,” one parent replied. “Isn’t it awful.”
The number of things that divide us as a nation are almost too many to count anymore. But this is the deepest and widest gap of all — our fundamental belief in whether government is awful or it isn’t.
There seems to be little middle ground anymore.
The rhetoric of our new president, who uses words like “catastrophic” to describe government programs and “carnage” to describe the state of our country, has certainly contributed to this divide. In fact, his entire campaign and first 50 days in office have been built on the idea that government is bloated, ineffective and irrelevant. Never was this more evident than in the ruthless budget “blueprint” he rolled out on Thursday.
Trying to explain the damage from this budget outline is like describing the debris from a tornado. It’s impossible to cover it all.
But here are some pieces: Nearly one-third of the EPA’s budget would be gone, undoing many of our most valuable environmental protections. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research and education would disappear as well. The same fate awaits many programs that help to take care of children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Summer and before- and after-school programs would likely disappear. Programs that low- and middle-income students count on to pay for college would be wiped out as well. Three dozen independent agencies and commissions including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be knocked to their foundations.
Even the most hard-boiled advocates of reduced government understand that change to many of these programs requires a scalpel not a meat cleaver. In Trump’s plan, America gets the cleaver.
But the damage would be more extensive than just these numbers. These cuts have ripple effects.