The Donald's so-far-successful withholding of his tax returns tells us something terrible about us
Doesn't it feel as if we're intruding on a private moment between Little Eric and Daddy The Donald?
Okay, this isn't breaking news, and it's Trump-themed, despite my avowed preference for avoiding that whole subject. But on the second count, I think a lot of things about the Trump Phenomenon need to be talked about because of things they tell us about ourselves as an electorate and populace, and on the first count, I think Daily Kos's Mark Sumner hit just the right note in his post last week "Eric Trump says you wouldn't understand his daddy's taxes."
Donald Trump is the first presidential candidate in a generation to hide his financial data from the electorate. But according to son Eric, daddy Trump has a good reason. You wouldn't understand it anyway.Two things, somewhat related:
A son of Donald Trump says it would be foolish for his father to release his tax returns. ...If you saw Donald Trump’s taxes, you’d probably make completely unwarranted assumptions about, oh, money coming in from Russia or how he didn't give anything to charity or how Donald Trump simply pays no taxes.
His son, Eric Trump, said Wednesday on CNBC not much can be learned from tax returns. He said his father's returns are massive and "you would have a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes" looking through them and making "assumptions on things they know nothing about.".
No one should be surprised, though, if Donald J. Trump has paid far less — perhaps even zero federal income tax in some years. Indeed, that’s the expectation of numerous real estate and tax professionals I’ve interviewed in recent weeks.Yes. It’s certainly hard for people who make a normal living and pay their fair share of taxes each year to understand how someone who literally sits on a gold throne, in a gold room, in a gold tower could pay absolutely nothing.
(1) There is of course some truth to the notion that those of us untutored in the complexities of the tax codes won't fully understand a lot of what's in The Donald's tax returns, and indeed will mis-understand assorted details in ways that are apt to be embarrassing to the subject.
(2) It's possible that Little Eric Trump isn't the halfwit we assume, based on, well, everything we know and intuit about him.
Because if (2) isn't the case, and Little Eric isn't an utter buffoon, then it's less appropriate to respond to (1) by saying: "Well, Eric, if you understand it, shouldn't it be possible for anyone to?
Beyond these considerations, though, what Little Eric is telling us in his ham-handed way --
• mostly underlines the very importance of those tax returns being made accessible, so that they can be looked at by people who do understand -- every bit as well as the tax finaglers who prepared those returns. (And you can be sure that there are legions of tax experts at the ready to dive into the material if and when it's made public;
• suggests that The Donald has aptly absorbed the value of stonewalling and avoidance, going back to the glory days of Tricky Dick Nixon and the famous gap in the Watergate tapes. It's a good bet that His Trickiness regretted the rest of his days that he hadn't had the good sense to make all the tapes disappear rather than turn them over. Probably The Donald won't ever have to face that decision, since it's hard to imagine circumstances under which he might be legally compelled to release the returns, but it certainly appears that he appreciates the wisdom of taking whatever heat he has to rather than risking the worst-possible-case consequences of disclosure.
As I suggested earlier, though, for me there's one additional lesson, perhaps a corollary to the above, which for me is what's most important: the full measure of The Donald's contempt for the American public, and the degree to which that contempt is earned. While it's possible that there are indeed bombshells buried in those tax returns which could have serious negative consequences, not just for The Donald's presidential campaign but -- obviously more importantly -- for his future financial well-being, it's also pretty likely that people who would consider voting for such an individual for the office of president of the United States wouldn't understand or care about any of this. Because if they did, they wouldn't even be considering voting for him without full disclosure.
I realize it violates the principle of the presumption of innocence to assume the worst about what's buried in those returns. But at this point, don't the lengths to which the candidate has gone to withhold them entitle us, even oblige us, to shift our presumption? While Americans have happily bought into the importance of the comparatively trivial matter of Hillary's e-mails (and never mind that it's right-wingers who pioneered to process of using alternative e-mail systems to keep their nefarious business private), they can't be made to care about the increasing likelihood that what's in the Trump tax returns would make even clearer how preposterous it is to imagine that The Donald could be any kind of solution to Americans' economic woes rather than a stellar exemplar of the problems.