But I was struck by one particular set of lines from Donald Trump — three sentences that may not sway one single voter one way or another, but which, to me, mark Trump as a monster of our own creation. (By “our own,” I mean pretty much all of the western democracies.)
What did those sentences say?
The first line from Trump was about his serial bankruptcies, when Hillary Clinton said he made his fortune by ripping off the less fortunate.
Here’s what Trump said: “But I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company. My obligation right now is to do well for myself, my family, my employees, for my companies and that’s what I do.” Then he argued that if the government wanted to change those laws they could — the implication clearly being that he had no intention of seeking that kind of change. That’s a glowing message of public service, hey?
The second piece of the debate that sticks with me? When Clinton suggested the reason Trump didn’t want to release his taxes might be because he hadn’t actually paid anything.
His response suggested she was on the money: it was, “It would be squandered too, believe me.”
The point I’d make about those two lines? That Trump’s sentiments echo the mindset of many people. And that’s a shame.
More than anything else, it echoes that for a large part of the citizenry, citizenship is over and done with. Instead, we are nations of one: on the one hand, we demand as much as we can from governments, while at the same time, we argue we should pay the smallest amount of tax — even if that means moving money offshore, if we’re wealthy enough to actually manage that. All the while, we bleat about the government wasting money, without clearly identifying where that waste actually is, and how it could be dealt with.
I’m not suggesting that we should tolerate blatant government waste, but I do believe that, as citizens, we’ve made a compact. The compact is that, when we, through our government, feel a service is necessary, we both agree to fund that service for as many as we can, and agree to pay for it through taxes. Those most able to pay, pay more, but everyone has a duty to pay their share.
The idea that government is a bottomless pit of money from which we demand services without ever deigning to put anything back into the pit isn’t just greedy, it’s a recipe for disaster.
When someone wanting to lead the largest of the Western democracies can stand up and boast that he’s the best candidate precisely because he takes advantage of the law to fill his own pockets — that he can stand up and say that and not immediately be booed from the building — it’s time to realize that citizenry has been cheapened to the point greed has become ennobling.
Nobody likes paying taxes — I don’t, either, but I pay them, and frankly, if I declared bankruptcy to “take advantage of the laws of the nation” and avoid bills I could and should pay, I don’t think I could go out in public again.
In the words of no president ever, “Ask not what you can do for your country — ask what your country can do for you, you, you.”
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @Wangersky.