President Trump lashed out Sunday at the protesters who took part in marches across the country Saturday to demand that he release his tax returns, declaring on Twitter that “The election is over!”
Trump’s comments followed a nationwide Tax March that drew thousands of people in dozens of cities on the country’s traditionally recognized deadline to file taxes, April 15.
He bizarrely argued: “I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” The one has nothing to do with the other, of course. Voters didn’t put him there to act as an autocrat, responsible to no one.
That’s the voice of the authoritarian Trump from the presidential campaign, a man contemptuous of democratic norms and disdainful of dissent. I won, so shut up. Well, American politics has never worked that way. Trump’s stance is not going to end the debate, or serve him well, for a number of reasons.
First, he actually promised that he would release his taxes after his “audit” was over. Were we to somehow know he was lying, or does he have an obligation to make available, as he promised, returns not under audit (e.g. his 2016 return)? So long as he stonewalls, he’s essentially acknowledging that he lied to voters. Were the voters he duped, like the students of Trump University, supposed to have known better?
Second, his accusation once again that we should be interested not in the turnout of thousands of Americans exercising their constitutional rights but only in “those who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday” takes us back to 2009. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the tea party rallies as “Astroturf.” Heritage Action for America chief executive Michael Needham, a fan of the tea party, also seems to have forgotten how that kind of condescension comes across. He had this uncomfortable exchange on Fox News Sunday:
NEEDHAM: The — the American people really don’t care, as he kind of said at the end, about his tax returns. That’s why he won. And what he does is he sets up with these fights a situation where the media goes crazy over something that the American people don’t care about.
WALLACE: But wait a minute, Michael, that wasn’t the media that was tens of thousands of your fellow Americans taking to the street. That — and I’ve got to say, that was not something that the media even —
NEEDHAM: It was very well organized by liberal groups and — and there was money behind it.
WALLACE: But that was democracy when the Tea Party did it.
Ouch. Mass movements always involve organizers and the organized, but treating the latter as if they are stooges is a sure-fire way to grow their ranks and increase their anger.
Third, Americans actually do care about his tax returns. Democrats and Republicans by substantial majorities think he needs to release them. This will be one more item — along with conflicts of interest, filling his Cabinet with Goldman Sachs alumni, violating the emoluments clause — that Democrats will use in the 2018 midterms. The argument is simple: Trump is more secretive, more indifferent to corruption than his predecessors — and Republicans are too meek and unprincipled to object. Trump’s conduct cries out for divided government; without it, his contempt for clean, transparent government grows with each passing year.
Fourth, at some point in the investigation into the Trump team’s association with Russians, either the intelligence community or members of the House or Senate intelligence committees likely will want access to the tax returns and/or other financial records. After all, how can investigators determine the extent of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians without examining financial records (up to and including tax returns) of the candidate? It’s hard to make the case that those records wouldn’t be relevant to determining what connections, if any, existed. Depending on what information the intelligence community has already gathered, Trump’s financial records may become critical to determining the Trump family associations with the Russians. If Democrats have control of one House, he could well face a subpoena. In any event, continuing to stonewall requests for such evidence will be interpreted by many voters as evidence of illicit conduct.
Trump’s ire at the protesters will only embolden them, provide Democrats with fuel for their candidates and increase interest in his financial records as part of the Russia probe. Perhaps what is in the records is so damaging that it’s worth losing one or both houses of Congress. Right now, it sure looks that way.