It's been less than a month after the election, and in many ways the jury is still out on the future Trump presidency. He's scrapping Obamacare. No, he's keeping parts of it, actually. He's building a wall. Wait...it's more of a fence. He's going to prosecute Hillary. Just kidding, he wants to help her "heal."
Given the mixed signals regarding some of the campaign's bigger issues, you can forgive those in the arts community for feeling a bit nervous in the aftermath of his unexpected win. What will a Trump administration mean for the arts, as well as the foundations and major donors who back the arts?
The short answer? Who knows.
At least that's the impression according to those interviewed in a recent piece in the New York Times. It's too soon to tell if a Trump administration will be "good" or "bad" for the arts. If anything, there's a sense of cautious optimism at play across the community.
After all, Trump spent his entire life in cosmopolitan New York City. He and his company have donated modest amounts to Lincoln Center over the past several years, mostly gifts under $10,000 — not jaw-dropping, but not insignificant.
And so, while no one will be mistaking Trump for Alice Walton anytime soon, people like Rocco Landesman, the Broadway impresario and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, doesn't see anything "apocalyptic with him coming in."
If anything, any damage to the arts will be inflicted indirectly. As we noted in a recent piece entitled "Philanthropy in the Age of Trump: Six Predictions," philanthropic giving overall may decline if Trump pushes through his tax plan, which proposes reducing tax benefits for charitable giving. This will adversely affect the arts, which has been sustained by mostly private dollars in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Then again, if a Trump tax cut makes the wealthy even wealthier, perhaps these donors, in tandem with an influx of new givers, can fill the gap. Time will tell.
Then there's the possibility that Tea Party-types in Congress will force Trump's hand. The NEA, which the libertarian right has long sought to abolish, could be further downsized or even extinguished altogether in a worst scenario of one-party Republican rule. There's already rumblings that a Trump administration could slash $500,000 from public broadcasting. If so, once again, private philanthropy will have to plug the holes, which means less money to go around for arts organizations. The Alice Waltons of the world will become even more important, and the philanthropy "inequality" gap will continue to widen.
I think I speak for most of our readers in saying that a healthy approach towards a Trump presidency should be "expect the worst and then, who knows, maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised." And so, to complement some of Trump's more moderate announcements—Mitt Romney as Secretary of State? Really?—I'd like to end on a somewhat positive note.
In response to questions from the Washington Post this year, Trump noted that he had the "great fortune to receive a comprehensive liberal arts education" and said that "a holistic education that includes literature and the arts” was “critical to creating good citizens."
See? It could always be worse. (Right?)