Demanding Trump Release His Taxes: A Waste of Time?

I’m seeing a lot of tweets along the lines of: “I won’t pay taxes until Trump releases his tax returns.” The White House petition website, which was initiated by the Obama administration five years ago, has a petition demanding Trump release his tax returns, and it already has more signatures than any previous such petition. Activists are planning a follow-up to the Women’s March, for around , and according to one organizer: “Our central message is we want to see your taxes, Mr. President.”

I’m not crazy about this popular demand that President Trump show us his tax returns. If we make that the focus of our protest, it puts too much power in Trump’s hands to manipulate and divide us. I can think of several ways this might play out, and none of them are very helpful:

  • Trump continues to stonewall and refuse to release his tax forms, and the whole issue just becomes one of those simmering things that drops into the old news pile. After all, what leverage do we actually have over Trump in this matter? And if we were able to force him to do what we want, why would we use that power to force him to do something as trivial as this?
  • Trump makes a big show of releasing his tax returns, but ends up hiding as much as he releases, so that the questions people have about his finances aren’t really answered but he can pretend to transparency and can answer the “show us your returns” crowd with “I already did.”
  • Trump releases his tax returns, but they’re “alternative facts” versions. The IRS refuses to confirm or deny they’re the real returns, citing taxpayer confidentiality, and we’re none the wiser while Trump dominates the news cycle with another pack of lies.
  • Trump actually releases his tax returns, but they don’t really contain anything scandalous. All this time he was really just hiding that he hasn’t been doing as well in business as he’s been bragging about.
  • Trump actually releases his tax returns, they show he has (legally, if somewhat shadily) been avoiding paying federal taxes for years, as people have suspected all along. This becomes a brief hoopla in the press, but a few days later he does something outrageous again and everybody forgets about his taxes.

It’s hard for me to imagine a realistically likely scenario under which a mass popular demand that Trump show us his tax returns ends up being worth all of the fuss.

More to my taste is this pledge, which is gathering steam in the form of a Facebook “event”:

While Trump, members of his cabinet, and Congress seek their own self interest and defy every law of the land that applies to regular citizens, I shall pay State and local taxes, but not Federal Taxes.