For Larry Kramer, president of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation – one of the largest charitable organisations in the United States, known to support liberal causes including climate change – advocacy is a lot harder under the Trump administration.
But Kramer, who has been president of the foundation since 2012, is used to dealing with all kinds of governments, including conservative ones.
“Some things [that were] easy with the Obama administration are a lot less easy with the Trump administration,” he tells Fairfax Media on a visit to Melbourne last week for the Philanthropy Australia Conference where he was a guest speaker. “But our work goes on.”
Kramer is more concerned about the general future of democracy and how to fix it.
The foundation has allocated $150 million over a number of years to explore how the United States can tackle “democratic dysfunction”, to ensure that elected officials work together more effectively and ensure that citizens receive trustworthy information.
The recent Liberal party leadership turmoil in Australia shows it's not a problem which is unique to America. But Kramer fears it will worsen, both in America and globally, if we shut down dissent.
To that end, he believes that The New Yorker banning Steve Bannon from speaking at its festival – after initially making the decision to invite him – was a bad move – and one which could further alienate an already politically disengaged population.
Censoring people is not going to help muchLarry Kramer, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
“Censoring people is not going to help much,” Kramer says.
In the digital disinformation world, he says, there is a great deal of propaganda being produced.
“That’s reaching a lot of people –and we’re going to need to do something about that,” he says. “But I don’t think the answer is to just prevent people from speaking.”
He says Bannon’s views do not reflect the views of the majority of Americans.
People voted for Donald Trump out of sense of “frustration, disaffection and alienation”.
“Trump is the symptom of the larger disease – they [American voters] turned to him because people were fed up,” he says. “That’s not a good sign.”
Rather than forbid commentary that is negative or at odds with most Americans’ views, focus needs to be on protecting the idea of free and open debate and democratic engagement.
“People will respond in ways which are dangerous to the future of democracy, when democratic institutions aren’t acting,” Kramer says. “And we’ve had a long period of what amounts to congressional inaction – an inability to address the kinds of problems people are facing.
"The solution is to fix that. Not to make it even worse by shutting down people you don’t agree with – as reprehensible as you think their views are.”
There are concerns that under Trump, the ultra-wealthy will yield more influence, and that philanthropy from ordinary Americans generally may decrease not just because they have less to give, but because of the Trump administration's recent tax changes.
The Trump tax plan doubled the standardised deduction, which he fears may mean it becomes less necessary for as many Americans to itemise their charitable contributions as a way to reduce their reported take-home pay.
“We’re going to watch the data,” Kramer says, noting it was a change he was against. “There’s some data that suggests that will happen.”