The willingness of President Donald Trump to challenge business as usual vaulted the billionaire into the White House. His supporters felt that approach had promise to shake up Washington, busting through gridlock and stale policies to get things done. But it’s also an approach that’s insidious when it disrespects norms and standards that have mostly served the nation well, and dangerous when it undermines our electoral process. It’s not just that Trump and his Cabinet nominees are assuming power without proper scrutiny and denigrating valuable institutions with untrue claims. The president and top government officials will have so lowered the bar for scrutiny and truthfulness that we risk not being able to re-establish the norms down the road.
The law does not require the release of tax returns, but Trump’s refusal was unprecedented in modern times and unjustified by claims he could not make them public because of an audit.
Two critical Cabinet appointees, Rex Tillerson at the State Department and Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, went through Senate confirmation hearings before sharing all of their financial disclosures. This matters because senators had a right to ask Tillerson, the longtime head of ExxonMobil, and DeVos, a billionaire with ties to dozens of educational causes and corporations, about conflicts. The grilling Department of Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price is taking over stock trades and their relationship to legislation he sponsored and votes he made in Congress shows how important it is to have and consider this information. Such disclosures have derailed nominations. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, for example, was Barack Obama’s choice to head Health and Human Services but was forced to withdraw because of questions about unreported earnings and gifts.
Why would future candidates and nominees be forthcoming? We are setting up a situation in which calls to scour the finances of politicians and public officials will be met with cries of a double standard because Trump and some of his picks didn’t have to share their information.
Just as daunting is Trump’s continued tearing at a treasured societal bulwark, the security of our voting process, and his reliance, as well as that of surrogates Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, on untrue “alternative facts” when it comes to something as petty as inauguration crowd estimates. On Monday, Trump told congressional leaders he would have won the popular vote, which he lost by nearly 3 million, if not for millions of ballots cast by immigrants here illegally. It’s an untrue assertion that Spicer repeated Tuesday without documentation. House Speaker Paul Ryan said there is no evidence of rampant voter fraud. The claim actually casts doubt on Trump’s own election: If the process were that flawed, how do Americans know it wasn’t improper voting that won him the presidency? And assertions by Spicer and Conway that the inauguration drew huge crowds the news media lied about erodes the credibility of the media with no proof.
This is detrimental not just to our nation now, but to its future, and that’s why accountability and truth have to be fought for every day.