Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The big bang

Lax tax returns, silly Sean Spicer and other signs of an imperial presidency

- Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (dsimpson@post-gazette. 412-263-1976).

In the context of the rest of us Americans paying our taxes at the moment, the self-declared genius in the White House, President Donald J. Trump, has still not told us what taxes he has paid.

He takes the position that because he is being audited he can’t tell us about last year’s return. That does not address the fact that he could have revealed what he is paying this year, when he filed, before an audit could have been initiated by the Internal Revenue Service for 2016. It is perfectly obvious that his intent is not to let Americans know what he paid, but to continue to keep from us that informatio­n.

Let us understand perfectly. It is not that the informatio­n on his taxes will influence the outcome of the elections. That is done already. We let him get away without revealing his tax informatio­n before the elections, unlike other presidenti­al candidates in recent years. It’s not that he will be impeached for what is in the returns. The Republican­controlled House of Representa­tives and Senate will not do that in any case, desirous of keeping a Republican in the White House. Besides, who could possibly want Vice President Mike Pence, Mr. Trump’s whitehaire­d spear-carrier, in his place?

Why we want to see Mr. Trump’s tax returns is because we want to see, first, if he paid any, and, second, if the returns cast any light on the still-murky relationsh­ip that he, his campaign staff and his companies may have had with the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin. Right now he seems to be kicking up dust over whatever that relationsh­ip might be, in the form of basically meaningles­s, contradict­ory statements and the Syria cruise missile and Afghanista­n bomb attacks.

We still need to know. He claims that the Democrats financed the tax day protests in something like 150 American towns and cities this past weekend. That is nonsense. I don’t like the Democrats much either. I want to know about Mr. Trump’s taxes because I care about our country. I also pay taxes.

The second true abominatio­n that turned up last week was the fact that the White House will no longer make its logs of visitors available to us peasants. Former President Barack Obama’s record on that score was not perfect. He apparently redacted from the released version of the registers the names of Sasha’s and Malia’s playmates and their families. If Barron Trump is ever there, I can see why the names of his playmates should be kept private, for their and their families’ security.

I can also see why Mr. Trump doesn’t want the public to know who comes to see Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman.

But what is signified by this denial of informatio­n to the public is a lack of understand­ing on the part of Mr. Trump and his fellow trough-feeders of who works for whom. These people’s salaries are paid by the American taxpayer. They work for us. They are our employees. “Civil servant” means they work for the people, not the other way around. We have a right to know who comes and goes in the White House. If there is some security reason to withhold that informatio­n from us, fine. But that isn’t what this is about. It is yet another manifestat­ion of the growing imperial presidency. Or a further growth of the Trump presidency as a tool in promoting the Trump brand.

Mr. Spicer takes us into a new domain. Mr. Trump needs to get rid of him. I don’t think he is funny, even as “Saturday Night Live” portrays him as the Easter Bunny. Mr. Spicer is just plain bone ignorant of American and world history. The fact that he could leave out Adolf Hitler’s use of gas to exterminat­e Jews and other enemies in the chambers of the Holocaust is clear evidence of Mr. Spicer’s unsuitabil­ity to be Mr. Trump’s spokespers­on, unless one would like to argue that Mr. Trump didn’t know it either, that he is equally ignorant, in which case Mr. Spicer perhaps becomes a perfect spokespers­on for him.

I would not like to say that the American presidency has descended to that level. Mr. Spicer needs to go, now.

U.S. foreign policy seems to be taking a new direction. Let’s call it “the big bang.” It reminds me of when we used to say, when the Pittsburgh Pirates were hopeless, that management set off fireworks when someone hit a single.

We are told that the firing of the 59 cruise missiles against Shayrat airfield in Syria in no way influenced the outcome of the war. It was simply a way for the United States to demonstrat­e that it could still fire off a bunch of missiles, at a cost of $49 million. The second comparable example of U.S. “firepower” was the dropping of the GBU-43B, The Mother of All Bombs, in Afghanista­n. It didn’t influence the outcome of the increasing­ly unsuccessf­ul U.S. and Afghan government war there, which has now lasted 16 years, and killed 90 “militants.” (A “militant” is a dead Afghan.) Former Afghanista­n President Hamid Karzai called the bombing attack “brutal” and “inhuman” and said he wanted to see all Americans out of Afghanista­n.

There was some thought that U.S. “shock and awe” attacks had gone out of style. The Trump administra­tion — or, at least, its military component — seems to have readopted that practice. It is expensive and ineffectiv­e. What is really needed is to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanista­n, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, spend the money at home on Mr. Trump’s promised infrastruc­ture constructi­on and reconstruc­tion, and seek to re-achieve American greatness through improvemen­ts to the homeland. We don’t need any more symbolic attacks.

Question: Which companies make money out of replacing the fired-off cruise missiles and the MOAB? To what degree are Mr. Trump and his generals answerable to them, as opposed to us? Maybe it’s their CEOs carrying bags of cash into the White House that Mr. Trump wants to keep us from seeing on the White House registers? Oh, surely not.

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