Ever since the country discovered in 1973 that Richard Nixon had paid a ridiculously low amount of money in income tax, presidential candidates have felt pressured to release their tax returns for public scrutiny. But in 2016, Donald Trump broke with this precedent, refusing to publish his tax returns for spurious reasons, prompting many Americans to wonder what he was hiding. After years of speculation, The New York Times was able to obtain Trump’s tax records, and it turns out the president did indeed have a lot to hide: for many years he paid no federal income taxes, and in 2016 and 2017, although he did claims to be a billionaire, he paid roughly the same amount of federal income tax as someone who earns $ 20,000.
While Trump’s chronic tax evasion shows a lot – that he is not, in fact, a successful businessman, and that he is simply unwilling to pay his fair share to the government federal – one aspect of the Times report that should be most alarming to voters is that the president is choking on debt: he owes $ 421 million to lenders who are not yet known, and most of that debt is due within the next four years. “If re-elected, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to oust a sitting president,” the Times wrote. In other words, the president’s conflicts of interest only worsen and this level of indebtedness compromises his ability to govern effectively and serve the public rather than himself.
“This story reveals a vulnerability at the top of the US government,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who focuses on government ethics, in an interview with the editorial board of the World. This is because if the president owes a person or business money – especially if he owes large sums of money, which he does – it gives his lenders leverage over him. because of their ability to cancel that debt. This could have implications for advancing policies that favor Trump and his lenders over the general public. “The president is able to affect not only general policy, but also have a huge impact on the well-being of certain companies,” Clark said.
This fact is all the more disturbing as this president did not hesitate to publicly reward certain companies. and individuals who are friendly to him, just as he did when the government chose a construction company to build the border wall. The CEO of Fisher Sand and Gravel, the company that under Trump received the biggest border wall contract ever awarded, courted the president by praising him on television and donating to the campaigns of his Republican allies. After the deal raised eyebrows, the Pentagon Inspector General opened an investigation, ongoing, to see if there was undue influence on the part of the president.
It’s hard to imagine any of Trump’s creditors accepting overt favor to the public in exchange for a loan forgiveness. After all, that kind of cheeky corruption is illegal. But the president might feel indebted to vested interests, just as other politicians are when it comes to those who fund their campaigns and pass laws – a massive tax cut, for example – for the benefit of people like him and his lenders. And the mere perception of this possibility will only further erode public trust in the US government, which only got worse under Trump.
Even if the president’s lenders aren’t interested in directly using their influence over him, it still leaves Trump vulnerable to other actors – foreign and domestic – who may come in and offer to save him by paying off his debts or benefiting his businesses financially. indebted. This is why top-secret security clearance is often denied to appointed U.S. government officials who are heavily in debt, so America’s classified secrets, including those that protect our troops, will not be threatened. An elected president who owes hundreds of millions of dollars to his creditors is not only threatened with minor political corruption: he is a threat to national security.
Only some of Trump’s lenders are publicly known, but they don’t have to be foreign agents for its debt to pose a risk to national security. As long as foreign government officials know that the US president is in such debt, they can use this vulnerability when negotiating with him. Saudi government lobbyists already frequent Trump hotels, and Trump has been intimate with the regime.
Any foreign policy outcome that may be financially beneficial to the president may ultimately spur him to make decisions that are not in America’s best interests. Say, for example, Trump ends up negotiating a trade deal with the United Arab Emirates, a country where the Trump Organization is project to open a second golf course. The Emirates could adapt the deal to include incentives for companies like the president’s, which would make it easier for the Trump Organization to make bigger profits. In a situation like this, the president, desperate to pay off massive debts, might be forced to put himself, not America, first.
The enormity of Trump’s conflicts of interest and the implications they could have if he wins a second term should weigh heavily on the minds of voters as they consider who is best placed to lead the nation in the over the next four years. Because the well-being of the nation, its citizens and democracy rests in their hands, not the president’s lenders, at least for now.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.