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The Sun Also Rises

The unhappy children making a nuisance of themselves in Washington, D.C., ought to take a leaf from the sage of Ecclesiastes. Yes, Donald Trump is about to become president (in 3 hours and 45 minutes from now, but who’s counting? Update: he's now president!). But fear not. Life will go on. The sun also ariseth. The winds will continue to blow. Spring will come. The tulips will bloom.

It will go on even if that bulletin in The Hill yesterday is true: “Donald Trump,” it announced, “is ready to take an ax to government spending.” Can it be so? If The Hill is right, spring may be coming early this year.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

“Overall,” we read, “the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.”

Between us, I cannot help recalling the motto that the British travel writer Alexander Kinglake wanted to have inscribed over the lintels of the Churches in England: “Interesting, if true.”

I have no idea whether Trump will be able to save that sort of money by cutting loose or getting rid of cultural cesspits like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowments for Left-wing Assaults on American Culture. When measured against the gigantic mandated spending programs of the United States government -- Social Security cost $888 billion last year, Medicare $646.2 billion, Medicaid $545.1 billion -- the sums spent on programs that explicitly attack conservative ideas are a drop in the bucket.

Still, the impulse is a salutary one. Trump is not even, not quite, president yet, but he is setting a good example. The government had appropriated $6 million for the transition. Trump is sending back $1.2 million, or 20%, to the U.S. Treasury.

That’s merely lunch money in Washington, I know, but it sets a good example and helps instill a proper Calvin Coolidge-like respect for what, let’s remember, is the people’s money, not the bureaucrats’ money.

The fact is, the ship of state has acquired a thick and expensive layer of barnacles. That scaly encumbrance impedes our progress, costs us time and money, and intrudes upon our lives in countless ways. It is time time to scrape the hull.

If it were up to me, I would cashier all the programs I’ve named: the “temporary” Depression-Era model of unsustainable government boondoggles, Social Security, the not-so-great Great Society programs of Medicare and Medicaid, the various efforts to institutionalize elitist anti-American and anti-traditional sentiment like the National Endowments and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- were it up to me, I’d get rid of them all.

And this is not, I hasten to add, because I am hard-hearted or don’t want to help people. Samuel Johnson was absolutely correct that “the true test of a civilization” was its willingness to make “a decent provision for the poor.” The question is, what’s the best way to do it?  Through gigantic, inefficient, centrally controlled and ultimately unsustainable programs like Social Security and Medicare/-caid?

Behind those questions, of course, is a larger question: what is government’s proper sphere? Should it be involved, for example, in our schools? Should it be involved in everyday health care? Should it, as a matter of course, provide for us in our infirmity and old age? I would say no. In fact, I am much more hostile to Big Government than is Donald Trump, but I applaud the noises he and his team have made to rein in the excesses of government expenditure around the edges. Who, when you come right down to it, would miss the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Only the soy-latte-sipping, kale-munching, feminized, eco-aware progressives who can listen to Nina Totenberg and Noah Adams without wanting to break or at least turn off the radio.

Probably, the economies that Donald Trump is able to make will be mostly symbolic. But there’s a lot of vitality in symbolism, rightly deployed. And coupled with his plans to prime the pump of the American economy and promulgate an agenda of economic growth (as distinct from his predecessor’s agenda of punitive economic redistribution), we may just have a strategy for, if I may so put it, making America great again.

The spoiled children will cry and carry on. They’ll march. They will cry and tell us how frightened they are. They may even break some stuff. But noon today will come and go. In the coming months, Barack Obama will fade from consciousness like an unpleasant memory. Did we really coddle ISIS for all those years? Why did we capitulate to Iran? Whose idea was it to mandate transsexual bathrooms? Or stymie fracking or the mining of coal? Can you believe that the IRS or the EPA was deployed as a partisan weapon? Who allowed that? In the cold light of day, a day that will dawn tomorrow at 7:17 where I live, a lot of things will begin to look different. Obama will be gone, ditto Valerie Jarrett, Loretta Lynch, the disgusting John Koskinen at the IRS: all will be gone, gone. The sun also rises and the possibilities, if we seize them quickly, seem endless.