Friday, April 21, 2017

Lack of Tax Returns Puts Trump on Trial

“Where are you from?” I asked the couple who had greeted me with big smiles.

“From Sierra Nevada,” the wife replied.

When my eyes widened, the man said, “No, not the one in Spain. The one in California!”

We laughed.

Around us, in front of the City Hall in San Jose, people were gathering for the April 15 Tax March, part of the nationwide rally to demand that president Trump disclose his tax returns for transparency and accountability.

Vida and husband Bill, along with daughter Lauren, son-in-law Steve and 1-year-old granddaughter Lilian, had driven 170 miles from Arnold, a picturesque town in the high Sierra, to join the march.

“We have a moral obligation.” said Vida, “Trump must know he is accountable to the people of the United States.” She and Bill had come prepared with posters they were waving for passersby to see: “Trump can’t fool all the people any time” and “No Tax Reform until we see your Tax Returns for twenty years.”

By noon, our numbers had swelled to about 700. Cars whizzing by honked to indicate their approval as we filled the spring sky with resonant chanting:

“Hey hey, Ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go!”
“No more secrets, no more lies. Show your taxes, show your ties!”

I looked around. The posters told the story as well as any storyteller could. Three generations of Turner family of San Jose held up posters that read “Wanted: Trump’s Taxes” and “Nevertheless, She persisted.” The Turners are the driving force behind “Indivisible East San Jose,”
 one of the 5983 Indivisible groups nationwide that had spontaneously been formed after Trump became the president.

Other signs included “Use Trump’s Taxes to pay for his wall! Do not use my taxes!” 

“7 trips to Mar-a-Lago but cuts to kids’ programs, EPA, Libraries. Shame!” 

“What are you afraid of? Treason?” 

“Real Men Show Their Taxes!” 

“Did You Lose Your Taxes Like You Lost the Popular Vote?” and so on.

One particularly creative San Josean put Trump’s tax fiasco in perspective by identifying the seven presidents before him who had released their tax returns with a check box next to their names but a big red X next to Trump’s. Lida, a naturalized American citizen from San Leandro, designed her own: “Manchurian Idiot.”

Shelly, a 66-year-old activist, spoke of her philosophy: “Peaceful resistance is the answer. Each one of us must care for the other. Trump doesn’t care. I have to do my part to show I don’t support his ideas.”

At the downtown Cesar Chavez Plaza that was our destination, the megaphone belonged to anyone with anything to share with the marchers. No politicians or celebrities or big names, just ordinary Americans expressing their concern about the direction the country was heading under Trump. “We have lost the thought war,” said a woman. “We did not vote, thinking it would be a cakewalk for Hillary. We have got to get the vote out, retake the Congress, the Senate and, of course, the White House.” Another speaker asked the rally to be vigilant about Republican gerrymandering. But mostly it was about the unacceptability of Trump holding himself above the law, about issuing executive orders that violated the fundamental values of America, and about lack of transparency in not disclosing his tax returns. “Before the election, Trump kept talking about Obama’s missing birth certificate,” said a young African-American. “What we want to know is why his tax returns are missing!”

The rally was not just about tax returns, it was about building a community and imbuing it with hope and purpose. The passion in the march was palpable. “I see people’s power in action,” said John standing next to me, clearly energized. “I will be a part of every march in San Jose, climate march, science march, any march that unites us so we can get Trump off White House as soon as possible. The future of our country is at stake!”

I stopped by the campus of San Jose State University (SJSU) that’s within walking distance of City Hall. I had taught at this university many years before but nostalgia was not the reason for my visit. I wanted to re-read the plaque honoring two of SJSU’s most famous student-athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

To refresh the reader’s memory, 200-meter sprinters Smith and Carlos represented the U.S. in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. Smith won the gold medal and Carlos the bronze. At the podium during the award ceremony, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to express their disillusionment with a nation that tolerated, and even encouraged, racism against African-Americans. Millions of Americans were outraged. They were vilified, suspended and received death threats but Smith and Carlos never relented, never apologized. "We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country," Smith said years later.

37 years on, in October of 2005, Smith and Carlos were honored by their alma mater with statues capturing their iconic, unforgettable image at the Olympics podium. The plaque states that they were honored because they stood for “justice, dignity, equality and peace.”

I felt a shiver down my spine as I read those words. Here we were, almost half-a-century later, and our country is awash with what seems to be even more virulent forms of injustice, indignity, inequality and hostility than what Smith and Carlos saw and felt in 1968.

How could we have regressed so much? I wondered. What made it possible for someone like Donald Trump to become the president of the United States?
Karl Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Only a Donald Trump could have pulled off the unique feat of combining both tragedy and farce in his first 100 days in office.

Yet the Tax March I attended has given us hope that we can bring about the change we seek. As Candy Basso, a member of the Indivisible Blue Sisters said at the Chavez Plaza, “I never protested in my life until now. I was in the blue bubble. I want to thank Donald Trump for one thing. He has awakened us. The silent majority is silent no more.”

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