With Tax Day looming, thousands of people took to the streets in protest – demanding that President Trump release his tax returns. These returns would reveal, among other things, any lasting business ties – and subsequent conflicts of interest – the president has, but perhaps more importantly, serve as a symbol of government transparency.
In fact, a lack of transparency has been a continued trend for the administration, with Trump refusing not only to reveal his tax returns, but the record of White House visitors as well.
While the Trump team has continued to act as though the tax returns are no big deal, there is a reason no modern president has been elected without releasing their returns; these, like all forms of government transparency, serve to ensure citizens that their president has no outstanding business ties to foreign or domestic entities that would jeopardize or influence policy decisions.
This is especially important for someone who is renowned as an international businessman, like Trump. It is crucial to the American free society that the office of the presidency is not used to benefit any particular person or business, especially when it comes to international dealings, as the president tends to have more power in foreign policy decisions. These returns serve as perhaps the only reassurance that foreign interests will not serve to jeopardize the integrity of our nation’s highest office.
In fact, in addition to coming up with various nonsensical reasons for refusing to release these returns (such as an ongoing IRS audit), Trump has spoken out against Tax Day protestors, telling NBC News “the election is over,” as if that dispels him from any obligations regarding the matter.
The president’s refusal to make White House visitor logs publicly accessible is a similar affront to transparency. Taxpayers deserve to know who is coming and going in and out of the White House and when. While it may be understandable why the Trump team would make this decision – various members of his administration have been accused of holding inappropriate, and potentially illegal, meetings with foreign politicians – it certainly is not justifiable.
In fact, these accusations – whether they turn out to be founded or not – serve as an added reason as to why the public deserves to know what’s going on in the White House. The information the public is requesting certainly does not jeopardize national security – which is, of course, one of the reasons governmental information should be withheld – and would serve to restore a long-deteriorating public faith in the presidency.
Trump has also taken steps to inhibit the media, both by limiting press access (save for a few “friendly” outlets) and actively campaigning against them in his attempts to make the public distrust the fourth estate. Similarly, he has cracked down on social media, banning members of agencies like the EPA or the Interior Department from tweeting, and (at least temporarily) barring the public from accessing one of the few windows they have into the executive branch.
When coupled with the ethical questions surrounding the administration, this lack of transparency becomes all the more startling and, frankly, all the more dangerous. While his daughter Ivanka has, for example, created blind trusts for her business dealings – although these trusts have been scrutinized, as the businesses were handed over to her own family members – it is unclear whether or not Trump has done the same.
In regards to foreign policy, the main ethical concern is whether or not Trump has violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which dictates that U.S. government officials cannot receive payments from foreign governments, without the consent of Congress. Similarly, people have questioned whether or not the Trump Organization receiving trademarks from the Chinese government violates the Emoluments Cause.
Trump’s lack of transparency runs counter to his campaign promises to disrupt business-as-usual in Washington and become the people’s president. Fulfilling these promises requires transparency – whether it be in the form of tax releases, visitor logs or press access – not more of the mysterious wheeling-and-dealing that politicians have fatigued the American public with for years.
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