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We Won’t See Trump’s Tax Records

We Won’t See Trump’s Tax Records

Our former President was unindicted yet again this week. Prosecutors in the New York AG’s office finally lost patience in their efforts to flip Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, hitting him with a relatively mundane collection of tax and accounting fraud charges. As he did in the case that sent Michael Cohen to prison, Trump makes an appearance in the Weisselberg case as “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1,” extending his record as America’s most unindicted President.

It’s been 18 months since the Supreme Court shredded the arguments for protecting Trump’s tax returns. Nevertheless, his financial records remain hidden from the public.

It’s been six months since Democrats won the White House and both houses of Congress. Yet the IRS Commissioner Trump appointed to protect his tax records is still collecting a government check. He is still refusing to comply with a largely forgotten Congressional order to surrender those records and no one is lifting a finger to address the matter. Biden isn’t going to remove him.

If Democrats actually wanted Trump’s tax returns they could have gotten them in January. The new President could have fired Trump’s IRS Commissioner, a man who deeply deserves firing, and replaced him with a competent professional. That competent professional could have complied with the standing Congressional subpoena the same day, circumventing an otherwise endless court process. That didn’t happen, and it isn’t going to happen, because the prospect of authentic public scrutiny of our leaders’ finances scares Democrats just as much as Republicans.

We’ve been over this ground before. Understanding Democrats’ reluctance to investigate financial corruption starts with understanding the pathways to wealth common among Congressfolk across parties and regions. Speaker Pelosi’s financial history provides a helpful example. From a 2019 piece:

Nancy Pelosi is not just wealthy, but fantastically wealthy. She’s never had a private sector job, but as recently as 2015 her disclosed net worth was well over $100m. Where did that money come from? When asked, the family makes mumbled statements about her husband Paul’s success in real estate, which is just another way of saying that Pelosi’s money comes from the same source as Donald Trump’s. In other words, we don’t know, and like the rest of your representatives she’s under no obligation to explain how she acquired it.

Pelosi’s fortune didn’t come from an inheritance on either side of the family. She and her husband both come from modest origins. Pelosi’s father was a local politico in Baltimore who failed to assemble much wealth, though not from lack of trying. His political career was derailed in 1954 by a fraud scheme. He stuck around for a while but couldn’t get back in the game.

Her husband Paul earned a political science degree at Georgetown. The two of them started out in San Francisco with little-to-nothing, where Nancy went to work for the Democratic Party, mostly as a volunteer. There’s never been any clear explanation of what Paul does beyond generalized talk of “real estate” or “investing.”

Pelosi inherited the safest Democratic seat in the country from her mentor in the 80’s after moving to the district to qualify. It’s only after she landed in Congress that the family started to accumulate real wealth. To understand how, first let’s look at the holes in the reporting scheme.

Here’s Pelosi’s financial disclosure form from 2016. This seems pretty helpful. All major transactions are recorded along with assets and liabilities, so what’s the problem?

Look closely at those disclosures, particularly the real estate transactions. Were these arms-length deals in a competitive marketplace? The names of these entities on both sides of the transaction – what are they? Who’s behind them? Did any of these transactions represent a real exchange of value? Maybe. But there’s a simpler explanation that makes a lot more sense.

Don’t take this to imply that the problem is bad people. It isn’t. We live in a system of “Wu Tang Politics” that mediates political power primarily through financial relationships. Bribes, in the traditional sense of money changing hands for votes, are the crudest and least common elements of this system. Influence, not cash, is the currency of this system, and it’s bought and sold through complex financial entanglements which are mostly legal.

We live in a system of Wu Tang Politics, in which Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.). However, the popular narrative assumes that Democrats somehow stand at opposition to this system. That myth rises from a distortion of Democratic financial interests. Just because wealthy people get marginally less from the Democratic Party doesn’t mean the party’s politics aren’t cash-driven.

One of Chuck Schumer’s largest and most reliable donors is Goldman Sachs. Tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump family fueled Schumer’s early career. Cory Booker leaned heavily on the Kushner family for his rise to power. Booker even attended Jared and Ivanka’s wedding. The Trumps have donated well over half a million to Democratic campaigns over the years, a figure that fails to account for the more lucrative, undisclosed political currency of connections to cushy private positions and access to insider deals.


There are no good guys and bad guys, there is only a single, unified fabric composed of incentives and punishments. If Marco Rubio owed his job to Democratic donors and voters in California, he’d be backing a completely different agenda, and getting his credit card bills paid by a different collection of moneyed interests. Changing this arrangement requires more than selecting different representatives.

Keep placing “good” people into a corrupt system without tackling that corruption, and those good people will either conform to the demands of their environment and thrive, or they’ll be shuttled to the margins of power. If we really want to save democracy we need to see Donald Trump’s tax returns – alongside Nancy Pelosi’s. We need to see what’s on the hard drives and CDs seized from Jeffrey Epstein’s house. We need to know how much money Oleg Deripaska gave Mitch McConnell and others in return for being excused from sanctions.

Want to build a political system that cares about smart, effective public policy? Press your representatives to take the most radical positions on questions of public integrity. When they fail, replace them. Reject appeals to “pragmatism” that allow our current crop of rentiers to continue fattening themselves on us. Force your representatives to disclose their financial interests. Refuse to compromise on public ethics simply to protect partisan priorities.

It’s not guns, but money, that’s dismantling our democracy. Dragging Donald Trump’s finances into the daylight is a key step in restoring the power of ordinary people over their own political system. That’s why leaders from both parties are reluctant to let that happen.


  1. Yes, the wheel keeps turning. No doubt about that. Politicians of all stripes have more in common with each other than with the common man.

    But that does not change the fact the loser party is the loser party for a reason. If the roles were reversed, with the fascists in charge, and a dem president who just got ousted, the would have had him arrested by now. They would use the full weight of the law.

  2. Chris-
    I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to comment on your outstanding series of posts this past month or so. So I’ll have to just quickly summarize here.

    First off, your series on the origins of the white supremacy myth in America is incredibly well done, and very original. I really think you should try to get this published. If you don’t have enough material / time to put it in book form, then at least as a long-form piece for a magazine. It deserves a wider audience and a spot in the national conversation every bit as much as lesser works like Hillbilly Elegy.

    My only comment on it is about your speculations about what the future might hold, and here I would point out the limits of mythmaking: At the end of the day, a myth must still be tied to some reality that provides for a functional society. Otherwise, the myth will be replaced, or the society will fail and some other society with another myth will take its place. Either way, myths that aren’t at least partially tethered and harnessed in service to a functional system of governance don’t last long.

    While this is a good thing in that the party espousing white supremacy has become so incompetent at governing that they and their myths are rapidly breaking. But the Democrats are proclaiming victory too soon: they’re rapidly losing the ability to govern as well, which means they’re in no better position to define the next myth.

    Democrats are lost in their dreamy hike through the forest of wokeness. Meanwhile they’ve lost the ability to do basic things like manage a city’s growth. SF is a prime example. SF is not a big city. It’s actually laughably small. At less than a million residents, it’s smaller than San Jose, not to mention LA, the actual economic engine of California. They are not Mumbai or Lagos dealing with 20 million people, 10 million of whom are illiterate refugees from an even worse rural hinterland.

    If SF can’t manage annual migration of 10-20k highly productive citizens that some other state/country have already paid the cost of educating and turning into a million dollar productivity machine, ready to enrich their new home city, then what can they actually manage? For comparison’s sake: the Chicagoland area has about the same number of residents, a slightly higher GDP, and a slightly higher GDP per capita, than the entire Bay Area (SF/SJ/Oakland combined). And they do in about the same landmass as the Bay Area (so no argument about being landlocked). Yet they do it with a far lower housing costs, even as more of their land is used for things like heavy industry and agriculture, which take up much more land per dollar of economic output produced.

    Both are Democratic-controlled cities. Why the difference? IMHO, it’s because Chicago is one of the last cities that has a Machine, and for all its warts, a Machine forces politicians to focus on delivering results for its voters and leaves things like mythmaking to less grounded politicians. Chicagoans like to say that we don’t mind a little corruption as long as shit gets done.

    In contrast, SF has no machine; nothing that, despite 1-party dominance, tethers it to focus on results. As a result, they’ve headed off into la-la land. And no matter how much other Democrats in the Bay Area might believe in this wokeness story, they can no longer tolerate the dysfunction of the area and are moving out in droves. When forced to choose between living among their woke brethren in SF vs cowboys in Texas, they’re choosing Texas and plenty of other red and purple states.

    So perhaps the best thing for Democrats to do right now is not focus on mythmaking, and focus on rebuilding their reputation for competent government. Bill Clinton used to say that he had to first prove Democrats were capable of governing again, before he could propose big liberal programs. While in his particular case that might have just been a political fig leaf for his true intentions, it’s nevertheless true. Getting a white person to believe in whatever comes after white supremacy is a whole lot easier if it also comes with a better life.

    Right now, the way I (a lifelong Democrat) see my party’s myth is “You can call yourself any pronoun you like as long as you hand over your wallet to Goldman Sachs”. That’s a tough package to swallow, even if I do believe in the new rules around pronouns.

    2) Re: Austin. IMHO, this just goes to a fundamental difference in economics, spread to political philosophy: you can either focus on providing the lowest cost, or the most value. Texas is focusing on the cheapest cost. High cost places like CA, NY, Chicago, etc. focus on providing more value for the money. Social infrastructure like top-notch universities, infrastructure, medical care, even things like parks, culture, civic institutions, etc. take sustained investment. While there’s plenty of fat to be cut from blue state budgets, it’s not all just unions and pensions and corruption. What powered the rise of Silicon Valley was that 2 of the best engineering schools in the world happened to be located 10 miles apart: Stanford and Berkeley. The massive growth of California in the 80s and 90s was because in the 60s they decided to invest heavily in their public college systems, University of California and California State University, and make them the best public systems in the world. Notably, Proposition 13, the property tax cap, was passed in 1978: even then, people in California thought they were being taxed too much.

    While Austin itself may be more aligned with the California mentality, they can’t fight against the tide of their state government. While other developing economies hope to move from sweatshops to high tech, investing in their country to gradually upgrade their economy as labor and other costs rise, Texas seems determined to stay as a sweatshop economy: low cost, low skilled, low regulation, low tax. This isn’t to discount pockets of excellence like Houston’s O&G and medical industries, or Dallas and Austin’s growing tech industry. But they are not keen on helping those industries (outside of oil) grow, not least because they suspect those industries end up creating more Democrats.

    The Californians fleeing to Austin for lower housing costs are facing the same shell-shock, when they realize all those civic services and presumption of competence in most spheres of public life are no longer there, and are, in fact, quite expensive to replace. A few commentators in your last Austin post were talking about setting up backup generators or solar panels due to the unreliability of the energy grid. And it reminded me of how when I was a kid and we visited my relatives in India, they were floored when I told them my alarm clock in the US is plugged in and doesn’t have a battery. No clock in India runs on mains power. They couldn’t believe that electricity could be so reliable that you could literally plug in your alarm clock, that you use to get to school on time, and go to sleep knowing that your clock will wake you up at the proper time the next morning. And that it does, day in, day out, for years on end, without needing to be reset due to blackouts and brownouts.

    What’s the point of paying $2,000 less in property taxes if you then have to spend $3,000 to keep a diesel generator around? Or $10,000 less in state income taxes if you have to spend $15,000 going to an out-of-network hospital in a distant city to get decent medical care?

    You might think my 2 points are contradictory. I first decry SF as an incompetent hellhole and then say it’s paradise compared to Austin. Both of those things can be true, BTW 🙂 My point with both of these, is that competence can be a big factor that your posts about mythmaking neglect to mention. Put it this way: if areas believing in white supremacy and Christian theocracy were amazing places to live, economic dynamos, etc. and areas believing in multiculturalism, liberalism, and atheism were shitholes, then the conversation about myths would be very different. Not coincidentally, that was the state of this country in the 70s/80s, with multicultural, godless cities becoming nightmarish places that everyone fled from while lily-white suburbs and small towns flourished. IMHO, it’s not a coincidence that that’s when the Moral Majority and the Christian Taliban began to gain traction again.

  3. Duncan- not true. Pointing out similarities between the two groups *when they exist* is hardly the same as accusing them of the same things when it’s false. The problem with false equivalencies is that they’re… false. In this case, it’s not a false equivalency to point out that Pelosi and her husband were not born to wealth, have no known private source of their wealth, and yet somehow are worth $100million and then point out that they are as secretive about the source of their wealth as Trump has been. Did they do anything criminal like Trump? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not corrupt.

    1. But it IS the same
      Chris and you are accusing Pelosi of being a serial killer like Trump

      When there is no evidence of even “shop lifting”

      Read the article – there is no way that is “have no known private source of their wealth”

      The “Both Parties are the SAME”

      Is the GOP’s most effective lie

      1. Duncan-
        The article you link to is hardly an exoneration.

        Nancy’s husband Paul Pelosi runs an “investment and real estate firm”. I’ve recently lived in the Bay Area and was part of the startup scene. Anyone who’s made $100mil from venture capital or other investments would be considered a star and a senior partner of one of the major VCs. He is not that. He’s not a player in the legitimate SF investment scene, certainly not someone who’s gotten $100mil from such investments.

        That leaves real estate. There’s a reason why real estate is a prime area for money laundering, tax evasion, and all sorts of other shady activities. I’m not saying they’re laundering money for Russian mobsters like Trump likely is. It’s certainly not equivalent to that. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% clean. Real estate, at the level that can generate 7/8/9 figure profits, is intimately tied with politicians, everything from local politicians that happen to upzone your property right after you buy it, state politicians approving a road that happens to go right in front of your property (without taking any of it with eminent domain), and national politicians leaning on big banks to give a nice deal on the mortgage (to say nothing of outright giveaways like federal HUD grants, tax rebates, state incentives for commercial development, etc.). It’s the ideal place for politicians to back-scratch each other without running afoul of the law.

        What’s the difference between a council member in SF giving Pelosi a suitcase full of $10mil cash, vs. approving an additional 10 floors of building height on a commercial property that her husband bought the year before, which happens to raise the value of that property by $10million which he then sells on to an actual developer who will pay the higher price and actually build the building (who views the $10million as a cost-of-doing-business to get the zoning variance they need)? Sure, the first is illegal and the second is not. But do you really think the corruption isn’t the same?

  4. While I agree that some of the Dems have dodgy finances I would say that you are getting close to spreading the GOP’s biggest and most effective LIE

    The “Lie” that “both parties are the same” both parties do it”

    You know that is a damn lie – that on one side we have the equivalent of shoplifters and on the other serial killers

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