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The proposed budget doesn't simply represent an act of deprioritization or neglect of most people's needs. It is an attack on the lives of poor people and people of color. It is a call-to-arms against the environment, and thus, against the long-term survival of most species on Earth. It is a battle against the arts, against learning, against recreation, against shared space -- against the things that help give us life beyond mere survival.
We should not be surprised that these attacks on civil society and fundamental human rights are accompanied by a surge in military spending. The cuts and the hikes are part of the same murderous project.
The ground is already laid for that project to be built. Already, the US military budget exceeds the combined military budgets of the next seven countries: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India and Germany.
If we are going to confront Trump's proposed cuts to key domestic programs, we have to also confront the legitimacy that has been granted to endless war and militarism over the course of the past 16 years -- and throughout our country's history. We can't just add the priorities of health and life to the stock priorities of death and destruction. We can't just advocate for a few less fighter jets or a downsizing of Pentagon bureaucracy. We have to choose life-giving priorities over violent ones. We have to stop taking all forms of state violence -- war, militarism, deportations, prisons, surveillance, colonial destruction, disinvestment and deprivation -- for granted.
One way to start might be to imagine how we could reroute the money currently funneled toward this violence. For example, the National Priorities Project suggests that instead of increasing the military budget by $54 billion, as Trump suggests, we slash the military budget by that same amount. That $54 billion could provide Medicaid for 15 million adults, or grant 1.6 million students a free four-year college education, or create 1 million infrastructure jobs, or fund the Meals on Wheels program for 7,180 years.
Taking this a step further, military cuts could easily help fund programs that we don't yet have but desperately need, such as Medicare for all. With real cuts to the budgets of murder and devastation -- including not only the military, but also police, prisons, ICE and other violent institutions -- we could set viable plans to end homelessness, dramatically step up climate justice efforts, provide universal child care and more.
"Real cuts" would not only mean slicing off a certain number of dollars. They would also mean challenging the specific ways in which that money is spent. As United for Peace and Justice lays out, in addition to demanding a stop to US wars, we must also demand an end to the drone program, the closure of US military bases throughout the world, the start of active negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons and the demilitarization of local police forces. I'd go a step further to say that the demilitarization of police forces is not enough -- we should move toward dismantling them.
Moreover, confronting militarism would require a fundamental prioritization of racial and social justice. Both within the US and abroad, the military and other forms of state violence overwhelmingly target, harm, displace and kill people of color. Within the US, poor and working class people are targeted for recruitment into the military, pulled in via a long string of false promises. Once we acknowledge that these realities are not accidents, and are not new, we can conceive of how injustice is not simply a side effect. It is embedded in the practice of US militarism.
Trump's budget was released on March 16, the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, when the US military murdered the majority of people living in the small Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai, including many children and elderly people. This should serve as a reminder for all of us that rising military budgets are not a prescription for "public safety," as Trump has claimed. They are a prescription for murder.
As long as taxpayers continue to be complicit in filling that prescription, it seems that we have a responsibility to act against it.
We need to call and write to our Congress members and demand they reject the $54 billion increase to our military budget and the brutal cuts to crucial domestic programs. We have to stop taking our wars, our drones, our bombs, our imperialism and our decades of colossal military budgets for granted. We have to "imagine life without them." And we have to imagine -- and work to create -- the life-giving, healing, transformational priorities that will take their place.
Maya Schenwar is Truthout's editor-in-chief, author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, and co-editor of Who Do You Serve, Who Do you Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States. Follow her on Twitter: @mayaschenwar.