It’s hard to recall a time before the 2016 presidential campaign, which seemed to slog on for decades, infecting all aspects of life with toxic negativity, and leaving us with the radioactive crater of a world in which we now live. But if you can fight through the haze all the way back to the 2012 election, you might remember when President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for wanting to “fire Big Bird,” a debate quip that set off a week of silly advertisements and squabbling. People made memes about it, and after Obama won, all was forgotten, and Big Bird got to keep his nest.
Well, we’ve got some bad news: Donald Trump, a garish real estate developer at heart, has his eye on Sesame Street.
The new president’s first proposed budget is chockful of draconian cuts to domestic spending, focused on the most vulnerable Americans. He wants to cut school lunches and Meals on Wheels — despite the fact that he could pay for the entire yearly Meals on Wheels budget by forgoing one weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago. The White House’s budget also calls for the elimination of federal funds for crucial arts and educational programming, including the National Endowment of the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The latter is where Big Bird comes into play. The CPB is an umbrella organization that gives crucial funds to the many, many public radio and TV stations across the country. PBS stations may hold fundraising telethons -- that’s why they say they’re “made possible by viewers like you” -- but they get crucial money from the government; on average, about 19% of their budgets come from the CPB, but in poorer areas, they get up to 50% of their funding from the CPB.
And to be clear, it’s not a ton of money we’re talking about: the government gives $445 million to the CPB, and half of that -- $222.5 million -- goes to 350 stations. That amounts to $635,000 or so per station. For some context, Donald Trump once bought a $20,000 portrait of himself using money from his charity. It's not all evenly distributed between stations, but the point remains; it evens out to $1.35 per citizen a year.
The proposed budget also would kill the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which do everything from refurbish old theaters to provide crucial grants to great artists. As USA Today pointed out, the NEA was responsible for supporting the creation of 33 different Tony Award-winning plays and musicals, like “Rent,” “In the Heights,” and “Angels in America.” It also provided the backing needed for timeless works such as “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Color Purple.”
So, what does this mean? Well, it means some of our best up-and-coming artists, the next Lin Manuel-Mirandas, could lose their funding -- and we could lose our chance at important cultural works. It also means that art programs around the country, in communities that desperately need them, could be on the chopping block. Those are the places where young thespians get their start, and kids who never become famous learn to love the arts on their own terms. They are vital for everyone.
Obviously, Hollywood was not happy with these plans, as they hit so close to home. Here's a look at some of their reactions:
Trump cutting funding to SESAME STREET but Melania has all the taxpayer money she needs to stay in her penthouse in NYC. #JusticeForBigBird— billy eichner (@billyeichner) March 16, 2017
Sesame Street! That's the last straw! https://t.co/zyqNR37pzP— Ron Perlman (@perlmutations) March 16, 2017
Jimmy Kimmel made fun of the whole thing, as is his wont to do.
Now, the good news is that the Sesame Workshop, which makes “Sesame Street,” doesn't get any funding from PBS, so production will continue no matter what. And the show’s deal with HBO means that it will be on some people’s TV regardless of what happens to PBS stations.
But that's not the point, really. “Sesame Street” was created to help educate every child, and became a crucial part of the development of underprivileged kids, whose parents couldn't afford pre-school or teach them to read. Those households don't have HBO, and if local PBS stations fall victim to the budget cuts, the kids who need “Sesame Street” most could be at risk of losing out. Of course, that's the entire point of the rest of Trump’s budget, too, so it's unlikely the guy cares; he'd be putting up condo towers with his name plastered across them up and down Sesame Street if he could get away with it.