Today marks day 33 of the government shutdown. Some 380,00 government employees are furloughed, and an additional 420,000 are required to work without pay, with many of them pressed to find temporary jobs, start GoFundMe pages or hawk their personal possessions. Those hurt by the shutdown include the employees who work for America’s federally funded archives, museums and research centers. Some of our nation’s greatest intellectual resources have their lights off and “We’re sorry … closed” signs posted on their locked entrances. These signs communicate to our citizens and the world that the American mind has been deemed a “nonessential” service and thus closed for business.
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and most presidential libraries that serve as museums and research archives are closed. The National Science Foundation, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey are closed. NASA’s funding stream for scientific research has been cut off, and the Food and Drug Administration is unable to collect all of its data. Then there is the “collateral damage” of the work of university researchers — some graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck — and private government contractors who draw resources from or do work for these agencies.
These closures are simply the latest episode in the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the public intellectual infrastructure of our country. In 2018, it sought to eliminate federal funding for the NEA, NEH, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and we have every reason to expect Trump’s administration will try to do it again in 2019. The cost of such attacks on knowledge production and dissemination goes beyond dollars, however. It threatens the very foundation of democratic life that has been central to the founding, and flourishing, of the country.