Trump’s Rationale: It’s OK Because I Won
Matthew Yglesias on vox.com on the two most important words from Trump’s presser today: I won.
Donald Trump explained very clearly at Wednesday morning’s press conference why he won’t release his tax returns, thus leaving the public entirely in the dark as to who may or may not be paying him off: “I won.”
It’s as good an explanation as any. Norms are important in politics and government. But norms get a fair amount of their bite from fear. Fear that if you break them, you’ll come in for damaging criticism and lose public support. But while there probably was a public opinion backlash to Trump’s norm breaking (he was very unpopular on Election Day), the backlash wasn’t enough to cost him the race.
To Trump, winning retroactively justifies everything that came before, and the fact that his win was so unexpected will give him confidence that future taboos can be shattered without cost. This was evident in his behavior long before he entered the political arena.
Business norms say that if you hire someone to do some work for you, you ought to pay them. Trump doesn’t follow those norms. He stiffs contractors everywhere he goes and is happy to wade into litigation rather than pay, knowing that many people can be bullied into accepting less than 100 percent of what they are owed to avoid high legal bills.
Before Trump became a major political figure, I would have thought you couldn’t practice business this way because nobody would work for you. But Trump just moves on to newer places. There’s no Trump Hotel in New York, but he does have a brand new one here in DC, and DC-area contractors are learning what contractors in Atlantic City learned long ago — Trump doesn’t pay up. He defaults on his debts, rips off his shareholders, and defrauds the students at his fake university.
Trump was able to keep making more and more money and becoming more and more famous acting this way, and so he did. By the same token, all his political norm breaking — from his bizarre tweets to refusing to release his tax returns to suggesting Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination — didn’t derail, and may at times have helped, his election. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, and the reality is he’s right: He won.
But what comes next, in ways Trump may not realize, is different. Lots of presidents have won elections. What they’ve generally found is that the United States is not a plebiscitary dictatorship. The presidency is a powerful office, but its powers are shared with Congress, and to a considerable extent, you can only do what Congress lets you get away with.
For now, though, congressional Republicans seem convinced that Trump will stick to tax cuts and deregulation as the core of his agenda — with protectionist tweets serving more as a theatrical sideshow than as the dawn of a new heterodox approach to policymaking. As long as that’s the case, they’re willing to hold up their end of the bargain. But that’s the real reason Trump doesn’t need to disclose anything — it’s not that he won; it’s that his allies in Congress think letting him get away with it is the best way for them to get their way on policy.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center