Billions for Defense, But Not One Cent for the Arts


“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” Donald J. Trump ran for president with the slogan “Make America great again.” The first thought is that we could have, but we elected him instead – only that’s not true. America was great and is great and reasonably can expect to remain great although there may be an interruption of hopefully no more than four years.

It’s important to realize that greatness does not require perfection. Throughout time and space, or at least terrain geography we’ve had greed or desire for power repeated.

The more organized nations fought well-organized wars, like Rome and Carthage. In other areas, where there were no walled cities, let alone formal armies, there were still examples of tribal warfare and rivalry, and if there were no warring tribes, sooner or later somebody, usually European, would come along to conquer anybody available.

Yes, Alexander the Great was great, but he never really amounted to much, and his empire didn’t outlast him. Sparta was equally great, for a while – at the time a 10,000-man standing army was enough to achieve military dominance. While recent archeology has shown that Sparta did have a valid culture with art and architecture, it will still be remembered as the warlike nation that conquered Athens, and “spartan” is used as a synonym for harsh, hard, frugal and plain, while Athens is recalled for its art and philosophy.

Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Atilla the Hun, Charlemagne – all of transient interest and perhaps studied in courses on military history. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Democrates, Pericles – the greatness of the ancient Grecians will never fade.

The United States has done some good stuff and a great deal of bad. The nation’s greatness is not in its wealth or military victories but in its underlying philosophy whether or not we have ever lived up to it. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ...”

With all our sins, as long as we can look over our shoulder to those words, this will be a great nation.

Our current president doesn’t understand that. The National Endowment for the Arts supports small- and medium-size efforts, concerts and museum exhibits. The NEA is poorly funded yet its influence provides seed money for additional funds from local and regional sources. Smaller orchestras and museums couldn’t survive without NEA grants.

The National Endowment for the Humanities does similar work, making valuable resources available, now increasingly on-line, within reach of everybody. The Photogrammar project lets you “Explore 170,000 photographs of America in the 1930s and 40s, created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information.” These photographs give an insight into the lives of ordinary Americans in the Depression and wartime periods, but have not been available before.

The NEA also helped develop DARE, the Dictionary of American Regional English. It provided funding for Aaron Copeland to write the score for Appalachian Spring for Martha Graham’s dance company. Some of the projects will seem worthless, or perhaps elitist, that’s the nature of art and why art requires support.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting which is also at risk of losing its funding, helps support hundreds of small radio stations which, in turn, broadcast New York’s Metropolitan Opera to people who might never have an opportunity to hear the music of Mozart, Bizet, Verdi or others.

Donald J. Trump, who never served in the military but played at it in military school, wants to give more money for death and destruction but cut off all funding for music, art, preservation of our history and what it is that makes us uniquely American. “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul? (Mark 8:36 KJV)”

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living in New York. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652