At the beginning, I am biased. I live on the Chesapeake Bay. The extent of my bias does not stop there; I am on the board of the Midshore Riverkeepers Conservancy.
Our nation’s finances remind me of where I live. The Bay, like our nation’s finances, has been used and abused. Hundreds of thousands of acres of forest land were converted to cities, suburbs, and a wide range of commercial, agricultural and residential uses. Generations of persons fortunate enough to live along a watershed that extends from Cooperstown, NY to Norfolk, VA paid too little attention to what washed into the Bay. We are now making progress on the recovery of its water quality and dependent flora and fauna.
Not content with earlier budget priorities, the Trump Administration recommends that the cleanup fund for the Bay be reduced from $73 million a year in 2016, to zero. President Trump, at the same time, put off reform in what are called entitlement programs. It is these entitlement programs, up and down the various layers of local, state and federal budgets that pillory our nation’s economic strength just as aggressive development attacked the Bay’s watershed.
Benefits to be paid in the future have with few exceptions been underestimated and underfunded. Social Security and Medicare are just the most evident national examples. This underfunded liability distorts budgets and often pinches needed programs and reforms. And as the cost of servicing the debt increases, the pain of profligacy will get worse.
Tomorrow is not unconnected from today. If we mess things up, we have to pay. When we fail to fully fund our promises, the liability becomes a dead weight on the backs of our progeny and trust in the full faith and credit of the United States.
Speaking of trust, in an especially deft phrase, Tom Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, noted that “government moves at the speed of trust.”
The trust that is being squandered by the President’s erratic use of insults, slights, fights and worse will be a dead weight in the years to come. International allies will first be wrong-footed and then will attempt to avoid meaningful collaboration.
His political competitor’s will, to their eventual damage, simply be anti-Trump as if that is all the public needs to know.
Most media will specialize in criticism while the few that are more comfortable with the President will risk their reputations. Both versions will further discredit an important institution–the media that needs repaired.
It is hard to know how this ends or whether there is any possibility that Trump will cease to manufacture and distribute weapons to those who relish the chance to use them.
Since I believe both Parties are disintegrating, I am looking for new political leadership that will offer a way out of this mess. Hopefully leadership will emerge that is honest about the nation’s finances. Most importantly we need to speak truth to power about our fiscal mess and not just the part that interests us.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.