Liberalism, Conservatism, and Cynicism

President Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would, if elected, donate his salary back to the government.  Within days after the inauguration, liberal groups took him to task because he had not yet announced just how he would implement that promise.

Two weeks ago, in the middle of a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer presented a check in the amount of $78,333.32 to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Harper’s Ferry National Park Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg.  Zinke announced the contribution would be put towards the daunting backlog of deferred maintenance in our national parks.

ConservAmerica, the organization with which I am affiliated, immediately took to social media to celebrate the gift. We believe it is great that our President has spoken multiple times about his appreciation for our public lands and national parks. He could have chosen a myriad of deserving agencies to send his first check—but he picked our national parks! To us, that means the President is paying attention and acknowledges our national love affair with those parks, and bodes well for them under his Administration. It is no shock to me that nearly every D.C. based, progressive environmental group slammed the President’s donation as a PR stunt, citing the White House’s proposed 12% reduction of Interior’s budget.

I live in a small city in Southern Michigan, right on the Indiana border. Most of us residents identify as being from “Michiana” with South Bend and Elkhart as our major commercial hubs.  We’re an optimistic people, grounded in the values of small town America. We may grumble about the changing winds of economic fortune, but we prefer to lift our neighbor up and look for the good in everyone. Looking at D.C. from afar, we can’t help feel there is just one philosophy, and that is cynicism.

Ask anyone around here and they’ll scoff at a mere 12% budget cut. Everyone—factory workers, farmers, and educators—have dealt with far greater cuts at their place of employment or their incomes over the past 15 years. The standard retort at the post office, barber shop, or coffee shop to “How’s it going?” is “Not as good as government work, but not bad.”   The cynical voices decrying the President’s gift squandered a great opportunity to champion their shared interest in our national parks by trying to play to sympathies that just don’t exist here.

The amount of the President’s donation exceeds the average household income in Michiana, and probably most of America.  To the family of a R.V. factory laborer in Middlebury, IN who just ventured to Mammoth Cave National Park for spring break, sleeping in a pop-up camper, that’s a pretty magnanimous contribution.

I can only hope that from the well-spring of my Midwestern neighbors, the cynics will be baptized in a spirit of optimism—just like that felt when standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or staring up at the Grand Teton.