You may have forgotten that, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised that if he became President he would donate his presidential salary — currently, gross income of $400,000 a year — to a worthy cause. It was a promise that kind of got lost among all of the other promises and pronouncements and insults and boasting that we heard during the awful 2016 presidential campaign.
Yesterday, though, President Trump followed through on that one promise: he is contributing his after-tax presidential salary income from the first quarter of 2017 — $78,333.32 — to the Interior Department, where it will be used to fund restoration projects at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Antietam was a pivotal battle in the eastern theater of the Civil War. Like other Civil War battles, it was unbelievably bloody, with thousands of casualties, but after a series of losses to Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army, Antietam was one of the few battles where the North could plausibly claim a victory. And that is where the true significance of the Battle of Antietam lies: President Lincoln had resolved not to issue the Emancipation Proclamation until after a military victory by the North, because he didn’t want the Proclamation to look like a desperate act in a losing cause. Antietam gave him the ability to issue the Proclamation, which forever changed the focus and nature of the Civil War and American history as well. President Trump’s contribution will be used to help restore the exterior of a house where injured soldiers were treated during the battle.
Some groups seized upon the announcement to contrast the President’s contribution with the budget cuts he is proposing for the Interior Department and the National Parks Service. The Sierra Club stated that “America’s parks, and the people and economies they support, need real funding, not a giant fake check.” An official with the Center for Western Priorities commented: “Honoring military sacrifice and conserving battlefields are things that all Americans can get behind. But this publicity stunt must be taken in context: President Trump and Secretary Zinke are proposing a crippling $1.6 billion budget cut to our national parks, battlefields, and other public lands.”
It’s a sign, perhaps, of the state of our modern political world that President Trump’s contribution can’t simply be graciously accepted as a generous act. I’ve been a critic of the President in the past, and no doubt will be again, but this is an instance where he deserves credit for doing something that is all too rare in American politics — satisfying a campaign promise. And if, like me, you believe that it’s well past time to bring our federal budget, and federal spending, under control, you can’t simply treat every proposed budget cut as an unmitigated disaster. That’s how we got into our current federal debt predicament in the first place.