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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Trump’s Easy Ride on His Tax Returns Shames Media

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has provoked the ire of Donald Trump by calling him out on not releasing his tax returns. In so doing she also took a well-deserved poke at the media:

How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.

Trump, Ryan and other Republicans are bent out of shape about her breaking with the “nonpartisan” tradition of not having anything to say about presidential candidates. But that’s a pretty archaic tradition, considering how politicized the court has been under Roberts and Rhenquist, both of whom served as highly-partisan GOP voter suppression errand boys before their appointments as Chief Justice and who continued to vote for the Republican agenda during their terms (Roberts slightly less so). And no one has accused Justices Thomas, Alito or the late Justice Scalia of being insufficiently supportive of Republican priorities.

Then there was Alito’s mugging and head-shaking in disgust at President Obama’s comments on the court’s campaign finance ruling in the state of the Union speech back in 2010. You can go back a little earlier, to Bush v. Gore, if you need the emblematic partisan decision favoring the GOP.

Never a stickler for fussy notions about “decorum,” Ginsburg’s refreshing candor on Trump is no doubt driven by her concern that a “leader” of his calibre is a serious threat to our democracy. Her comments are well-protected by the first amendment, which for our Republican readers, is the one that comes before the half of the second amendment they so ardently embrace.

Republicans will surely continue blasting away at Ginsburg. But her point about Trump’s failure to release his tax returns is inarguable. As tax expert David Cay Johnston put it in his Daily Beast article, “New Evidence Donald Trump Didn’t Pay Taxes“:

The tradition of presidential candidates disclosing their tax returns has an august purpose: making sure that another criminal is not a heartbeat from the presidency or in the Oval Office.

The disclosure tradition dates to when Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president in 1973 and then plead guilty to a tax crime. President Richard Nixon was an unindicted conspirator in a felony for which his tax lawyer Edward L. Morgan went to prison for creating a fraudulent $576,000 tax deduction on his behalf—one of the specifications in the impeachment proceedings that never came to a vote because Nixon resigned in August 1974.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s expected opponent in the November election, and her husband have made public their complete tax returns going back more than three decades. Their returns since 1992 are available here.

There are quite a few articles over the last few months taking Trump to task for not releasing his tax returns like other candidates. But you have to wonder why the press doesn’t hold him accountable at every opportunity until he does so, as they would surely be doing with Clinton, had she not released her tax returns already.

In his Salon.com post “A message to the press — you must not let Trump’s tax returns slide: It’s a critical question of transparency that can’t be ignored: Donald Trump is counting on the press to let him get away with sitting on his tax returns,” Simon Malloy writes,

The way Trump plans to move past this is the same way he ducks every other controversial issue: he’ll restate his bogus excuse as often as is necessary until the press gives up. He’s going to wait it out or gin up some other controversial distraction to divert the press’s attention away from the issue. Past experience has given him every reason to believe that whatever questioning he’ll receive on the tax issue will be cursory, shallow, and easily ducked. Trump is, at this point, just taunting the press, and he has every confidence that they’ll react the way he wants them to.

It’s long past time to stop letting that happening, and Trump’s tax returns offer an excellent opportunity to reverse the easy press relationship he enjoys and start persistently challenging him on a matter that cuts to the core of his political identity.

As a master of the politics of distraction, as well as media manipulation, it is no surprise that Trump has tried to avoid complying with the growing demand for transparency on his tax returns. But it is disappointing and a little surprising that the major networks and newspapers have not badgered him until he does so.

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