Like it or not, he is under no obligation to make public his returns…
(Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune) Illinois has joined a growing number of states that are taking steps to keep Donald Trump off the presidential ballot next year if he doesn’t release his tax returns.
While the proposed laws don’t necessarily mention Trump by name, we all know they are about him. Not only is that a dangerous precedent for our country, it’s downright wrong.
As much as Democrats would like to ensure that Trump doesn’t win a second term, the idea of legislators instituting a state law aimed specifically at disqualifying a president they dislike should send chills down every American’s spine.
We are a country that is supposed to adhere to the laws of the U.S. Constitution. There is nothing in that document, nor federal law, that says a presidential candidate must release his or her tax returns in order to hold office.
Without question, it would be beneficial to voters to know all about Trump’s financial interests when they cast their ballots. Tax returns could help us decipher whether the president is working in the best interest of Americans, himself or somebody else.
But while Trump has broken a 40-year precedent followed by every president since Richard Nixon by refusing to release federal tax returns, like it or not, he is under no obligation to do so — at least not at this point.
Still, at least 17 states are attempting similar moves to require presidential candidates to file their federal tax returns over to state officials or be kicked off the ballot. The measures are supported primarily along party lines.
The Democratic-controlled Illinois Senate voted 36-19 last week to require presidential candidates to release five years worth of federal tax returns to the secretary of state. The legislation, however, says nothing about the state’s own governor, Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who released only partial returns. His wealthy Republican predecessor, Bruce Rauner, didn’t release his full returns either.
Illinois Democrats want to tell presidential candidates, ‘Show us your tax returns or else!’
Requiring gubernatorial candidates as well as other elected state officials to release their full tax returns actually would make more sense, given that states have the right to change their own Constitution.
Some would say, however, that desperate times require desperate measures. And on the surface, this might seem like a brilliant way to ensure that Trump doesn’t get a second term in office. With only a 45 percent approval rating, according to the latest Gallup Poll, it appears most people probably want him gone, anyway.
But as Americans, we have reached a point where we must ask ourselves some important questions. How much are we willing to compromise democracy for Trump? How many of the values that we hold dear in America are we willing to throw away on a man who provides us with so little value in return?
If the legislation makes its way through the House and onto Pritzker’s desk for a signature, the Illinois voters will lose a substantive voice in determining the leadership and direction of this country.
Along with that, we would be forfeiting the greatest gift of living in a democracy — the right to choose our own leaders — over to our state government and ultimately to voters in states whose ideals possibly are quite different than ours.
This blatantly partisan decision is a relatively new twist to the old issue of states rights. While in prior cases, that argument has been used to circumvent existing federal laws, this is nonetheless a way for states to assert local autonomy.
That isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, autonomy is in our best interest. Nevertheless, it requires careful thought. The argument for states’ rights can be pretty scary. It even led us into a Civil War over slavery.
Conservatives have used it almost exclusively in recent years to promote their agenda. It was the primary issue in the battle over slavery. Opponents of abortion rights, gay marriage, health care reform and racial integration also have argued it.
Others have long insisted that putting decisions that impact all Americans into the hands of states would essentially deny people basic rights simply because of where they happen to live. The same logic should apply to voting for the president of our choice.
The danger in asserting states’ rights is that once you cross that threshold, it is almost impossible to go back. Democrats may have the advantage today, but tomorrow that power might belong to Republicans.
Then there’s the problem of retaliation. What would stop some red state in the South from declaring that a presidential candidate’s birth certificate is invalid and require him to come up with something they consider to be more “official” in order to appear on the ballot?
It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? But it also is familiar.
It is almost a certainty that any such laws would end up in the courts, quite possibly the U.S. Supreme Court. While the court has not had to contend with a presidential ballot, the court in 1995 knocked down an attempt by Arkansas voters to enforce term limits by barring candidates seeking a fourth term to Congress from the ballot.
There is a legal way to keep Trump off the ballot of every state if he continues to hold on to his tax returns — by amending the U.S. Constitution. The most common way to do that is for two-thirds of both houses of Congress to pass legislation and then have it ratified by three-fourths of the states.
We all know that in this ultra-partisan political climate, that’s not going to happen. So more than likely, Trump will be at the top of the Republican presidential ticket in 2020.
If Democrats don’t want another four years of Trump, they need to come up with a candidate who can beat him. And voters in every state deserve the chance to cast a ballot to kick him out.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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