Never mind the election returns in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Their being recounted is almost certain to make no difference in the outcome of the presidential race — and if by some 2016-bizarro chance they do make a difference, we’ll all know soon enough.
Meanwhile, the returns on which the entire country needs to focus are Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Remember those? The tax returns he kept saying he couldn’t release because they were under audit but the I.R.S. kept saying that he could? He needs to release them right now.
Everyone needs to pressure the president-elect to do this, and I do mean everyone: Trump’s inner circle, his outer circle; his friends in Congress, his foes in Congress; mainstream media, consciousness-stream media, Field and Stream media; the social network and the anti-social network; the few who comprise the Electoral College and the many who despise the Electoral College; individuals who voted for Trump, individuals who voted against him, and individuals who did not vote at all; those who love him dearly and those who hate him passionately; his ex-wives, his current wife, and all his children, including little Barron.
This is a pathetically modest demand. I am not calling on everyone to call on Trump to liquidate his businesses entirely — even though I do think that if he could not fathom doing so, he should never have run in the first place. I am, however, informed by counsel that timely and total divestiture could be undoable, legally and otherwise. If so, it is hardly worth calling for. And even if liquidation were feasible, insistence upon it would lead to a big, convoluted discussion over what that process should look like — and thus muffle the cry for the one simple action that absolutely can, should and must be taken immediately.
Nor am I (yet) calling on everyone to call on Trump to build the wall that America actually needs to have built: the wall between his private businesses and his public role. That barrier must be constructed, but there is a real risk of slapping up something worse than useless. For example, I was thinking that Trump should be obliged to submit a conflict-removal plan subject to “bipartisan Congressional approval” but just typing that felt like pouring glue down the throat of governance. So it is worth taking some time to get that right.
Trump’s tax returns, by contrast, are done. They have long since been filed. They should have been produced long ago. There is no reason on God’s green earth why the president-elect cannot produce them now.
However belated, this disclosure would serve not only the country, but Trump himself.
Having spent an entire campaign riding the wave of the nation’s mistrust of Hillary Clinton, Trump should be very wary of drowning in its mistrust of him. To a greater degree than any president-elect in history, he is asking Americans to believe that his presidency will not get tangled up in the web of his business activities. That would be a big ask even if there were not millions of non-Trump voters who would not believe the president-elect's statement of his own name.
At this beleaguered point, there are also millions of non-Trump voters who would love to give Trump at least some benefit of the doubt. But if he can’t come clean on something as straightforward as a tax return, why should they do any such thing?
In light of the GOP's relentless attacks on the morals and ethics of both Clintons, this is an especially valid question.
Clinton critics fumed that no matter how consensual, Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky would have gotten him fired if he were president of a college rather than president of the United States — and they were right.
Clinton critics howled that Huma Abedin should not have taken a job with Teneo Holdings while simultaneously serving as a close aide to the Secretary of State — and they were right.
With all the “pay to play” smoke that swirled between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s State Department, no one has ever found any real fire in terms of connections between Foundation donors and State Department favors. But Clinton critics raged that those connections should never have been so much as hinted at, even if the favor in question was just a meeting and the meeting was never held — and they were right.
Now the incoming commander-in-chief is laden with conflicts, actual and potential, that dwarf all of the above. But he doesn’t have to spell out what millions he has exchanged with whom for what?
The more one despises Trump and dreams of his impeachment, the less agitated one needs to be about the whole issue of financial disclosure — because the longer Trump skirts it, the more it stands to blow up in his face.
Conversely, the more one reveres Trump and envisions his signature scowl on Mt. Rushmore, the more one ought to be pressing him on this point.
It is a point much larger than loot.
The presidency should be honor and burden enough for any human being for as long as he or she holds the office. By clinging so tightly to his business life and all its secrets, Trump radiates the sense that our nation’s highest office is not enough for him.
I don’t care if Jill Stein’s recount triples his margin of victory.
If Donald Trump cannot bring himself to release his tax returns, he is unfit to be President of the United States. If Americans right, left and center cannot unite in exhorting him to do so, then we are unfit to be citizens.