On this dreaded Monday, April 15 — Americans’ least favorite day of every year – we have the always-inspiring words of Sarah Huckabee Sanders filling the air. She wishes to tell us about President Donald Trump’s taxes.
The White House press secretary tells us to mind our own damned business, since we are all too dumb to understand them anyway.
Never mind that every other modern U.S. president has shared his financial secrets with the country that elected him. Sanders informs us that Trump’s taxes are his business and no one else’s, least of all the U.S. Congress, which is currently requesting the president’s returns from the Internal Revenue Service.
Congress, Sanders informs us, is not “smart enough” to understand those records, even if they get their hands on them.
Well, she has a point, as anyone who has wrestled with U.S. tax regulations understands. As former Tax Court Chief Judge Howard Dawson Jr. dryly noted years ago, “It looks as if the tax laws are a conspiracy in restraint of understanding.”
Or as Sanders put it, with her usual tact, in an interview with Fox News, “I don’t think Congress, particularly not this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that Trump’s taxes will be.
“My guess is that most of them don’t do their own taxes, and I certainly don’t trust them to look through decades of success that the president has and determine anything.”
Well, let’s stop her there for a moment. Just as millions of Americans lean on tax specialists to do their taxes, it is also possible that members of the U.S. Congress may have a few such specialists on hand to interpret any subtleties in this president’s taxes.
How about that, tax fans?
As for Trump’s “decades of success,” let’s keep in mind this is a man who’s had to declare corporate bankruptcy multiple times. He’s a man whose description of his personal wealth has varied – not by millions of dollars, but by billions – from the calculations of people who count money for a living and, unlike Trump, have found no reason to lie about their answers.
But this is about more than the ability to count big numbers.
We live in a time when the most obscenely wealthy corporations pay no taxes at all. It’s a time when this president shoved through a tax plan that gives new breaks to the wealthy and fewer to the rest of us. It’s a time when the gap between the rich and the rest of us is greater than ever before.
And we live with a president who promised, during his campaign for the White House, to release his taxes once the government had finished auditing him. That was more than two years ago. Now, absent any known audit, he simply balks.
This is a president who claims to be rich as a sultan, but will not let us know how much he gives to charity. And won’t let us know about money he might be getting from foreign countries, which might in turn affect his views on international relations.
We are, as a nation, somewhat good natured about taxes. We grumble about them. We think they’re too high. But we understand they’re the price we pay for citizenship, and for getting things done on the grand scale.
But we want to know that our leaders are paying their fair share as well.
And maybe we aren’t “smart enough” to understand every nuance of Trump’s taxes. But we’re smart enough to sense when somebody’s trying to hide something.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.