More often than not, we are reminded that Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory was largely due to a resurgence of the white middle class; the low-income “forgotten man” in “flyover country.” This colloquial term refers to the states in between the coasts that are considered America’s heartland, or middle America. On the campaign trail, Trump catered his rhetoric to their worries, biases and disgust with Washington and politics as usual. Throughout his contentious campaign, Trump promised to invest more in America’s heartland, the rural landscapes largely forgotten due to the apparent elitism of Washington and the coasts.
On March 16, the Trump administration released their proposed budget. While the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs had a considerable increase in funding, the same could not be said for other crucial governmental agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of State took heavy hits, with the Trump administration proposing taking away close to a third of each department’s funding. Arguably, the worst cut of all is the complete elimination of the four arts and culture agencies, which includes the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These agencies collectively garner $971 million in government funding. $445 million of those cuts are felt by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supports public television and radio, and most notably NPR and PBS—which is not good for Trump’s “flyover country” base.
But why do these budget cuts matter to middle America?
As it turns out, coastal megalopolises sustain themselves primarily through private donors, not government funding from CPB. This makes sense as cities like Los Angeles and New York City are both seen as the apexes of the arts in America. Since these cities garner financing from private donors (as well as advertisements), Trump’s budget cuts will not affect them or the regions surrounding them as deeply.
But Trump’s base — “flyover country”— would be affected. Over 65 percent of the federal government’s funding to CPB goes towards sustaining middle America’s PBS and NPR broadcasting. Essentially, the same government money Trump is proposing to cut is solely keeping PBS and NPR alive in middle America.
At first glance, budget cuts for CPB dependent programs (PBS and NPR) seem reasonable. Can’t people just watch ABC or NBC? The issue is that large media conglomerates like ABC approach local broadcasting with a top-down approach. In an interview with Vox, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger explains that PBS, unlike ABC or NBC, approaches local news in a more pragmatic way, letting their local affiliates call the shots instead of corporate heads. The importance of CPB funded programs is that they are truly local stations unbound from the bureaucracy of corporations. The bottom-up approach of CPB affiliated programs results in reliable news tailored to smaller communities.
PBS and NPR almost single handedly provide reliable local news to rural areas in the flyover country, because media moguls spend their resources in the more populated centers of America. PBS not only provides educational shows for children, like Sesame Street, but also crucial information for its adult patrons like local news, weather and programs such as American Masters and Frontline. However, due to Trump’s proposed budget cut, middle Americans could lose their CPB funded local news, as it’s nearly impossible to sustain without government funding, especially since CPB affiliated stations do not sell ads like conglomerate media corporations like ABC or NBC do.
According to Pew Research Center, rural voters got out the vote for Donald Trump at a rate of almost twice the amount that they did for Hillary Clinton; unconsciously, the “forgotten man” may have voted away their access to affordable television services that they rely on for local news, weather and educational shows.
Essentially, Trump is betraying his base without them realizing it.