This Land: Trump’s Budget Would Hit His Appalachian Voters Hard

Voters in Appalachia gave Donald Trump a lot of love on Election Day, providing some of his widest margins in the nation. But, like most malignant narcissists, Trump appears incapable of returning that love with anything but loathing and disdain.

Sure, he made smooth promises during the campaign and even during his inauguration. He’d bring back coal. “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” he said at his inauguration, sounding a lot more like a villain from The Dark Knight Rises than I assume he intended.

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no more,” he continued grandly.

Then he sent his budget proposal to Congress, and made it clear that he had forgotten the people of Appalachia.

His budget would boost military spending by $54 billion a year and pay for it with massive cuts to domestic programs that many of the “forgotten men and women of our country” depend upon — especially those in poorer, rural areas like Appalachia.

Trump’s budget would cut subsidies for rural airports that help keep air service affordable in Charleston, W.Va., and Lexington, Ky. It would cut drug control programs that have struggled to keep up with the opioid addiction crisis that has slammed southern West Virginia so hard.

Programs that help provide heating subsidies to low-income residents would be eliminated. This would be a huge hit to Appalachian residents. West Virginia residents receive $26 million from the federal Low-Income Heating Assistance Program. Kentucky residents get $42 million from the program, and Tennessee residents get $50 million.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, which provides assistance across Appalachia through numerous programs, would be defunded.

After-school programs would be cut, even as charter schools — which are concentrated in urban areas — get a boost. West Virginia received more than $10 million in federal funding for after-school programs in 2016.

The fact that Trump’s budget seems to take cruel aim at some of his most ardent supporters hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Washington Post remarked on the Charleston Gazette-Mail headline, “Trump’s budget slams West Virginia,” saying it should raise eyebrows in the White House, considering Trump won the state with 69 percent of the vote.

In an editorial bemoaning legislation in West Virginia and Kentucky that would defer mine safety enforcement to the federal government (something they never would have even considered under the Obama Administration), The New York Times noted that Trump’s budget calls for a 21 percent cut to the Labor Department, the agency in charge of such enforcement.

Even John Oliver’s This Week Tonight pointed out that Trump’s budget cuts would “heavily impact groups that voted for him,” highlighting the cuts to rural airport subsidies and other vital programs.

It’s important to understand that Trump’s budget has almost no chance of being adopted. Though it accurately reflects GOP priorities, even Republican members of Congress are balking at seeing some of their rhetoric reflected in actual budget numbers. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was one of several Republicans to say the budget was “dead on arrival.”

But Trump’s budget still matters, even if none of its proposals are implemented. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews wrote, every budget is a moral document and this one tells us much “about the administration’s priorities, and its ethics.”

The budget cuts nutrition assistance for the Women, Infants and Children program, cuts much of the federal funding that supports Meals on Wheels and other important support programs for the elderly, slashes job training assistance and funding for legal services for the poor.

This budget was put together by an administration that does not believe poor people need or deserve federal help — even though Trump voters as a group receive a lot of federal assistance.

Not only that, the budget would roll back almost any effort associated with doing anything to study or combat climate change. It also slashes foreign aid and cuts the State Department Budget by nearly 30 percent.

This is a budget put together by an administration that doesn’t value science or diplomacy.

Think about that $54 billion annual increase in military spending. The United States already spends more on its military than all of our adversaries and many of our allies combined. Would the Pentagon even be able to put an additional $54 billion to good use every year? Trump has no apparent mission or strategy for the build-up — he just wants to look like a strong man.

The Trump budget would hurt his own supporters more than anyone else. This isn’t an accident. It represents Trump’s actual priorities now that he’s in office. And despite all his populist rhetoric, it’s clear that his priorities have very little to do with the needs or desires of the people who elected him.

Sorry, Trump voters, but it’s time for you to realize that he just isn’t that into you.

Radmacher is former editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette and The Roanoke Times. This Land is a weekly column produced by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.