Memoirs of the Addams Administration 18.

There is no longer a filibuster on judicial appointments, but there can be one on spending bills.  Since Republicans hold 52 Senate seats (rather than the 60 needed to stop a filibuster), they had to deal with the Democrats to pass a bill that covered government spending through September 2017.  What did the Republicans get out of the deal?  They got a big jump in defense spending ($12.5 billion) and in “securing the border” by non-wall means ($1.5 billion).  What did the Democrats get out of the deal?  Several of the federal agencies that President Trump wanted to put on short-rations came through relatively unscathed for the moment: the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.  Federal aid to Planned Parenthood is preserved.  There is no money for “the wall.”  American generally benefitted from not having a “government shutdown,” although President Trump raised the possibility of a more serious confrontation in September.[1]

The flip side of spending is taxation.  The Trump administration released a bare outline of proposed tax change legislation.  The plan proposed to create three tax brackets (10, 25, and 35 percent); cut the corporate tax rate from the nominal 35 percent (with a ton of loop-holes) to a standard 15 percent (pretty much the international norm); and get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the Estate Tax.[2]  The intellectual concept behind this plan is that lower taxation will lead to a surge in economic growth that will generate more revenue over time than it costs.  Many people on both the left and the right are deeply skeptical–to put it mildly–of this belief.  The Trump administration pointed to the slow growth of the first quarter of 2017 as proof to the harmful effects of heavy regulation and high taxation.[3]

In foreign affairs, the shock waves from the North Korea nuclear problem continued to rumble through America’s relationships in Asia.  China has supported and protected North Korea as a way of advancing its own agenda.  President Barack Obama’s policy of strategic patience put off action in hopes that “something will turn up.”  While a wise policy at the time (like the pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran), North Korea’s gains in nuclear weapons and missiles have now made that policy obsolete.  There are tens of thousands of American troops stationed in both South Korea and Japan.  The United States has defensive alliance with both countries.  A North Korean attack on either one is likely to kill a lot of Americans and would require an American response.  Hillary Clinton would have faced the same difficult choices as does Donald Trump.  It will be necessary to give China something if it reins-in (or overthrows) the North Korean lunatic-in-office.  To off-set any concessions to an expansive China, the Trump administration has sought to rally America’s allies in Asia.  To this end, Trump invited the homicidal Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House, and ordered the Pentagon to move an anti-missile system to South Korea.[4]

A minor furor arose over President Trump’s question to an interviewer “Why was there a Civil War?  Why could that one not have been worked out?”  It’s a fair question that has pre-occupied academic historians for generations.  While heaping abuse on the historically-ignorant president, his critics seem to have missed reading Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

[1] “Congress agrees on spending deal,” The Week, 12 May 2017, p. 6.  Will President Trump be willing to force a shut-down in September as a way to shoulder his way back into a bargaining process in which mainstream Republicans are willing to ignore his priorities?

[2] “Trump’s tax plan: Who would benefit,” The Week, 12 May 2017, p. 8.

[3] “Issue of the week: Looking for a ‘Trump bump’,” The Week, 12 May 2017, p. 38.

[4] “Trump’s hand of friendship to Philippine strongman,” The Week, 12 May 2017, p. 7; “How they see us: Trump diplomacy rattles South Korea,” The Week, 12 May 2017, p. 17.

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