Today is Inauguration Day. At noon Eastern Time, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. For his millions of supporters, not to mention his millions of opponents, the previous sentence seems as surreal as the image and actions of the man himself.
Let’s consider for a moment that that a breaking news headline yesterday in the New York Times read, “U.S. intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and data for links between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia.” Let’s consider the news yesterday that the incoming administration may have plans to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. The indicators of what we have in front of us are coming fast and furious. From Election Day in November until now, we have felt a bit like we’ve been on a roller coaster—the slow, steep climb to the top before the twists and turns of the real ride begin. Today, we are at the apex of the ride, the coaster begins its first precipitous and frightening drop. But, wait! In civil society, we must resist any idea that we are merely passengers. There must be reins or controllers we can make collective use of!
NPQ is preparing for a time of intensive coverage of budget cuts, program redefinitions, and policy changes as they affect civil society. Some of our readers have voiced objections, saying that NPQ is not giving the new president-elect a chance to prove himself, but the nature of politics doesn’t allow for that, no matter who the new president is. A rule of systems thinking, in fact, is that foresight is morality—and in this case, we have some good indicators of directions to be taken. Among other things to date we have written about using Trump’s website, the GOP platform, and other policy documents—including Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way”—to prepare for the new administration. We have addressed the fact that national changes are also reflected in many state and local governments across the country. We have looked at several of Trump’s cabinet picks, which he completed just yesterday by choosing former Georgia governor Sonny Purdue to be the next Secretary of Agriculture.
Looking at the list of federal cabinet departments, it’s easy to see a relationship between many of them (HHS, Education, HUD, Transportation, etc.) and the nonprofit sector. Some relationships are less apparent. For example, why should nonprofits care about the Secretary of Agriculture? Agriculture policy is important to farmers and commodities traders, of course, but more than 70 percent of the department’s budget is spent on providing food to low-income Americans through programs like SNAP, WIC, and free and reduced school meals. Only 16 percent goes to farm and commodity programs. In addition, its budget supports rural development, conservation (including the U.S. Forest Service), and food inspection and safety activities. The Department of Agriculture is one example of a government department that matters far more to the nonprofit sector and those we serve than it may at first appear, both in terms of direct financial support and in terms of how (and how many) people in need are served.
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What will happen for and to nonprofits and the communities they serve over the next 100 days, the next year, the next four years? Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” We are seeing waves of change at the federal, state, and local level affecting everything from the overall economy to nonprofit endeavors like healthcare and shared responsibilities like education at all stages from early childhood through college and technical training. Trump has promised (or threatened) swift action on multiple fronts, beginning with the potential for executive orders to be issued this afternoon that could change government policy markedly and immediately.
NPQ has been resolute in our position. First, we stand for and will support civil society in the United States as a major counterbalance to any government that is out of alignment with human rights, civil rights, and a sustainable future. Second, we reiterate our “4 Things Nonprofits Must Do the Day after a Trump Victory”: Work on advocacy, create collaborations, engage with constituents, and avoid the temptation to be passive and hide while hoping the pain will end. Instead, advocate for our “vision of the communities, nation, and world we all want.”
The ride we are on will no doubt be a little scary, and we’ll likely be bumped around quite a bit as we encounter hairpin curves and sudden speed changes. Fortunately, we have more control over this ride than it may appear. Our advocacy, passion, and resolve will be called upon, but we must never doubt that others will add their voices and their resources to our efforts. This has already been seen in post-election giving and the success of some flash fundraising campaigns tied to Trump tweets or statements.
So let’s remember the job of civil society here: to help mobilize communities to find the future they long for, even if that future requires an epic journey and feats of courage and strength. Sometimes, doing all that becomes intense and exhausting, and each significant advance will elicit some measure of backlash. Still, NPQ stands ready to serve you, even as we embark on this ride.