Many have criticized the president’s budget for stripping benefits from the less fortunate in exchange for tax cuts to the wealthy. The problems don’t stop there. By eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, President Trump’s budget undermines people’s ability to talk about complicated subjects, whether budgets or political differences or, frankly, anything else.

While neither program will ever make as much noise as an F-35 fighter jet, the annual price tag of the NEA and NEH together is about $320 million (roughly one-tenth of one percent of the $235 billion already spent developing the F-35). But this is about more than price. Both programs support something that “hard power” completely overlooks.

We will never manage to live in this painfully complicated world by shouting at each other. If you wonder how the words and experiences of others can help you deal with the challenges of being a veteran; if you wonder what equality and citizenship really mean, look for answers in the company of neighbors at a local library and with the help of the Maine Humanities Council, which is funded by the NEH and NEA.

Careful conversation takes time, teaching and, yes, money. Our government — including members of Congress — should continue to champion the ideals of the NEH and NEA to, in the words of President Lyndon Johnson, “sustain a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry.”

If we are not interested in doing that, then what are those F-35s defending?

Joseph Hall, Auburn

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