Best columns: The U.S.
Trump’s Russia cover-up
The Washington Post
“The Russia scandal has now reached all the way to the president himself,” said Paul Waldman. The Washington Post reported this week that President Trump personally intervened to dictate a misleading statement about the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a group of Russians with connections to Vladimir Putin’s regime. A few weeks ago, when the administration learned that the meeting was about to be publicly reported, Trump’s advisers and Kushner’s legal team recommended admitting the truth: Donald Jr. took the meeting after the Russians promised to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. But President Trump overruled everyone and personally dictated a statement saying the meeting was about “the adoption of Russian children” by Americans—and nothing more. How do we know this? His own aides leaked the story to the Post. This is a very big deal. Trump is now implicated in an effort to “mislead the public” about a key meeting with Russians. This cover-up will become part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice. And if Trump’s aides are implicating him now, what will they do when they’re under oath, facing jail time?
A nation without leadership
The New York Times
The Republican Party “has an empty majority,” said Ross Douthat. It has been successful in winning elections, but as its painful health-care debacle has proven, it “cannot govern.” Through most of U.S. history, a party that has clear majorities enacts a strong, coherent agenda, such as Reaganomics or FDR’s New Deal. But this Republican Party is broken—divided against itself and confused by President Trump’s erratic populism. It knows how to oppose Democrats, but cannot lead. Strangely, however, this doesn’t mean Republicans won’t maintain their hold on state legislatures, governorships, and even Congress. While Democrats have proven far more competent at pushing through their agenda when they’re in power, they are—with the exception of Barack Obama—terrible at politics. Their contempt for traditional values and culture has solidified the Democrats’ hold on “highly educated America.” But their success in deep-blue states “breeds liberal insularity and overconfidence”—the conviction that Democratic dominance is demographically, culturally, and morally inevitable. That smugness “helps Republican support persist as a kind of protest vote, an attempt to limit liberalism’s hegemony.” So on our nation stumbles, torn between a party that doesn’t know what to do with power and one Americans don’t trust to have it.
Don’t count on major tax reform
“The government will give you a tax break if you hunt whales. Or if you’re a policeman who wants to retire early. Or if you donate a painting to a museum.” When congressional lawmakers take on tax reform, said Brian Faler, they will face a nearly “insurmountable” barrier: hundreds of tax breaks, “each with special-interest constituencies willing to go to the mat to save them.” The nation’s massive tax code provides special tax breaks for ministers, veterans, blind people, farmers, grade school teachers, life insurance companies, robbery victims, shipwreck survivors, art collectors, people with huge medical bills, and those who ride their bikes to work. To cut overall tax rates without ballooning the deficit, as Republicans seek to do, most of these special tax breaks have to be eliminated. But do elected lawmakers have the courage to stick it to the blind, the sick, ministers, or veterans? Probably not. They’re even less likely to eliminate the massively costly deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. What this means is that Republicans have little chance of forging a consensus on comprehensive tax reform. A simple tax cut that increases the deficit may be their only realistic option. ■