It has been over a week since President Donald Trump administration unveiled his budget plan. I’m calling it the budget of death.
While various reports have catalogued the 19 government agencies and 61 programs that would be terminated, and commentators have denounced the heartlessness of a budget that would slash everything from peace studies to public broadcasting, I have been struggling to find something new to say about this fiscal fiasco without descending into rage or becoming overwhelmed with despair. A week later, I’ve got nothing. Because this budget proposal, though unlikely to pass in its entirety, portends a bleak future — leading us further into the dark recesses of militarism and mercilessness that have been waiting for us ever since we began our journey of perpetual war.
An additional $54 billion dollars are proposed for defense, with prominent politicians claiming that this is not enough, while resources for the poor and vulnerable, the environment, labor, housing, and healthcare are eradicated. As dramatic as it may sound, “budget of death” is the only real way to describe a proposal to pour money into the mass machinery of war while eliminating programs that would enhance the health and quality of life of our citizenry.
It is painful to imagine what the true human cost of this proposal will look like.
Students will struggle in under-funded schools, their bellies growling without free or low cost lunch. Many will necessarily give up plans for college, because funding for postsecondary education will also be cut. In the days of contaminated water from Flint to Detroit, millions more Americans will also no longer have access to clean drinking water when funding for cleaning the Great Lakes — which make up 20 percent of the world's fresh water supply — is depleted. Malnutrition rates will grow exponentially. Unemployment and poverty will rise. In human terms, this will look like despair, disease, and death.
This is what the cost of war looks like. The face of poverty and pain is one human reflection of war. As Eisenhower said so well, 64 years ago, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” As often as this quote is invoked, it is rarely envisioned.
When politicians call for more military spending and a “balanced budget” at the same time, something has to give. And the Trump budget proposal has spelled out what that something is. Of course, each program on the chopping block has historically received far less money than our military in the first place. The further decimation of these programs is the slow death of the American soul.
If poverty and pain are the domestic face of U.S. imperialism, then piles of rubble that used to be mosques and homes and hospitals are the hallmarks of our military abroad — along with broken families, refugee camps overflowing with the displaced from our violence, and famine from blockades enforced with our weaponry. Every gun that is made, every warship launched signifies theft from the poor at home and death to the poor around the world.
President Trump did not set us on the course of endless war that continues to devour resources and souls, but he is speeding us along its destructive path. We need to see this budget as a byproduct of perpetual and self-perpetuating war, the culmination of a culture of enmity at the expense of empathy. So while we must contact our representatives and tell them that the human cost of this budget is unacceptable — and while cases must be made for every individual program at risk — we also need a deeper healing to revive our souls. We need to remember the humanity of those not only on the losing end of our budget, but also on the receiving end of our bombs.
War is costing us. It is costing us our faith in humanity, our kindness, our future. When we put our trust in weapons, we erode our trust in people, isolating ourselves by carving out an identity against others. The spirit of hostility we direct overseas circles back like a boomerang, breeding fear and cruelty. Investing in enmity has grown us militarization of the police, panicked shootings of unarmed black or brown people, and bullying of minorities. Mercilessness festers, spreads, and threatens to swallow us whole.
Yet we are awakening now to at least some of the consequences of devoting our dollars — along with our mental and physical energy — toward death. As we contemplate the toll that endless war is taking on education, the environment, housing, and healthcare, may our hearts expand in empathy — not only to our immediate neighbors, but to our neighbors around the world. None of us can afford to lose any more.
I place my hope in the awakening of our human conscience as we come to recognize not only what war has cost us in America, but what it is costing our brothers and sisters around the world. My hope is built on the knowledge that we are made in the image of love, interconnected and bound to each other. As we have eroded our own souls through our violence, we may repair and restore them through our love, building relationships that make us stronger, and finding our identity with and for one another.
Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Let us invest our treasure in building one another up — here, and around the world — that we may mend our hearts and resurrect our humanity.