Putin, Kim Jong Un, & Trump – What A Threesome

Heather Cox Richardson

First, a follow-up to last night’s letter on foreign affairs: Russian president Vladimir Putin visited North Korea today for a meeting with leader Kim Jong Un, who greeted his visitor personally as he got off the plane. Putin is looking for more weapons for his war on Ukraine. U.S. national security spokesman John Kirby expressed concern about “the deepening relationship between these two countries.”

At home, news broke on Saturday that Paul Pressler, a major leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and a key Republican activist, died on June 7 at age 94. In 1967, Pressler, a Texas judge, and Paige Patterson, a seminary student, met in New Orleans to plan a takeover of the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., to rid it of liberals, purging those who believed in abortion rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. By 1979 their candidate was elected head of the organization, and in the 1980s, Southern Baptists, who then numbered about 15 million people, were active in politics and were staunch supporters of the Republican Party. 

In Robert Downen’s obituary of Pressler for the Texas Tribune, he notes that as Pressler’s influence in the Republican Party grew, he also allegedly groped, solicited, or raped at least six men, including one who said he was 14 when Pressler first sexually abused him. Pressler denied the allegations, but he and the Southern Baptist Convention settled a lawsuit brought by that accuser just last December. A 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicleand San Antonio Express-News inspired by that lawsuit found more than 400 Southern Baptist church leaders or volunteers had been charged with sex crimes since 2000.

In March 2021 the hugely popular leader Beth Moore, herself a survivor of sexual assault, left the church, saying, “You have betrayed your women.” That May, Russell Moore (no relation to Ms. Moore) left the church leadership and then, the following month, left the church itself over its handling of sexual abuse allegations and racism. A 2022 report on the church and sex abuse was so damning that Russell Moore wrote: “I was wrong to call sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention…a crisis. Crisis is too small a word. It is an apocalypse.” The investigation, he says, “uncovers a reality far more evil and systematic than I imagined it could be.” 

The patriarchal model of society embraced by the Republican Party in the 1980s enabled the sorts of abuse uncovered in the Southern Baptist Convention, but Pressler’s death suggests that the era might be ending. Today, Robert Morris, the pastor of Texas megachurch Gateway Church, resigned after news broke on Friday that a woman has accused him of sexually abusing her for several years in the 1980s beginning when she was 12. 

The Reagan Republican model started from the proposition that the best way to serve the public good was to slash taxes and regulations because that would enable the very wealthy to accumulate capital that they would then invest more efficiently in the economy, making it grow faster than it ever could when government investments warped markets. Theoretically, this would help everyone.

Former president Trump and MAGA Republicans are still advancing that plan. Trump has promised to cut taxes yet again if he is reelected and has suggested replacing them with tariffs, which are essentially taxes levied on imported goods and then passed on to the consumer. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation, which is the major organization behind Project 2025, has called for raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits because of future shortfalls in the program’s financing. 

But in 2024 the media is noting ahead of time that Trump’s vow to abolish the income tax and replace it with higher tariffs would raise taxes for a typical American family by $5,000 while raising the incomes of the wealthiest Americans.

And while the Heritage Foundation dismisses out of hand the idea of raising taxes, the Biden administration has noted that we are on the cusp of a generational opportunity to reorient the U.S. tax system. 

Yesterday, National Economic Council Deputy Director Daniel Hornung used the Trump tax cuts to skewer the larger argument that tax cuts help everyone. He pointed out that the 2017 Trump tax cuts failed on their own terms. Proponents of those cuts said they would benefit mainly ordinary Americans; instead, the bill gave those in the top 1% a tax cut more than 50 times higher than the cut that fell to middle-income households. Meanwhile, corporations used their tax savings on stock buybacks, dividends, and executive pay. No wage gains trickled down to the bottom 90% of workers.

Furthermore, the proponents of the Trump tax cuts said they would double or triple the economic growth rate. Instead, real GDP and fixed investment stayed at about the same rate as they had been before the tax cuts. Similarly, those behind the bill said it would increase revenues and pay for itself; instead, revenues fell and the deficit increased. 

Hornung notes that Republicans want to continue this system, but the Biden administration wants to scrap it in favor of a system that would be “more fair, promoting economic opportunity and work and eliminating preferences for wealth,” and that would raise enough revenue to fund critical national priorities, like Social Security. 

The administration would like to see higher taxes on the less than 5% of American households with an income of more than $400,000 a year and on corporations. In addition, it is calling for using the tax code to support middle-class families and those in need, including by restoring the expanded Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty nearly in half in 2021. 

Yesterday, officials from the Treasury Department said they were cracking down on the ability of businesses and the wealthy to manipulate the value of their assets to lower their taxes. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo estimated that the crackdown should yield about $50 billion in the next decade. 

The struggle to resurrect a government that works for ordinary people rather than concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a few was on display in President Biden’s announcement today that, in the absence of congressional legislation, he is trying to streamline the process of applying for U.S. citizenship for certain undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens, allowing them to apply for legal permanent residency without leaving the country. 

Two weeks ago, Biden announced executive actions to bar undocumented immigrants from claiming asylum when the seven-day average of undocumented crossings is above 2,500 people. At the same time the administration is trying to stop undocumented immigration, it is also trying to make getting permanent residency easier for legal immigrants. 

Currently, in order to apply for legal residency, an undocumented person has to leave the United States, leaving jobs and family, and to hope for a chance to come back in. Now people who have lived in the U.S. for at least ten years and are legally married to a U.S. citizen can apply without leaving first. So can those who were brought here as children who have earned a degree at an accredited U.S. institution of higher learning in the United States and who have received a job offer from a U.S. employer in a field related to their degree. 

This rule will affect about 500,000 spouses of U.S. citizens and about 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 whose parent is married to a U.S. citizen. It will affect 50,000 to 100,000 “Dreamers.” 

“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Biden said as he announced the order. “That’s who we are.”

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