Yes, nothing says “democracy” like … star chambers. In a hyperbolic discussion of Donald Trump’s tax returns and debt load, MSNBC nat-sec analyst Frank Figliuzzi warns that Trump’s outstanding debts make him vulnerable to foreign manipulation, as do his business connections abroad. The supposed mystery of his outstanding loans and his refusal to turn over his tax returns create a critical threat to American security and democracy, Figliuzzi tells the panel.
To keep from making the same mistake in the future, Figliuzzi proposes a “bipartisan commission” to vet presidential candidates — presumably with the authority to keep voters from nominating them:
MSNBC’s @FrankFigliuzzi1 proposes creating a "bipartisan commission" to vet presidential candidates to prevent another Trump: "We got this wrong, and this can’t happen again." pic.twitter.com/itZp3ZebJz
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) October 1, 2020
The basis for this entire argument is specious on its face. It’s true that the New York Times story on Trump’s taxes didn’t identify his debtors. However, it’s also true that Trump has disclosed that information — as required — every year in filings with the federal government. The latest such filing took place at the end of July, and it was released to the media. Anyone who wants to check Trump’s debt can simply read the disclosure, which also includes his sources of income. As is already widely known, Trump mainly deals with Deutsche Bank, which for a while in the 1990s was reportedly the only major lender that would do business with him after his business bankruptcy.
This is, in fact, a much better form of disclosure than tax returns. It’s more direct, and more understandable, too. That doesn’t mean there’s no value in tax returns, but they are complex enough that it’s easy to misrepresent or at least take out of context the information they contain. That’s especially true for those who operate in investment and wealth rather than salary and income. In this case, Trump’s debts — which are monumental — still don’t outstrip his business’ assets, whose valuations run into the billions. It might be necessary to sell assets to cover maturing debts at some point, but that still leaves Trump very much in the black overall, at least for now.
So this hysteria is ill-informed and overblown, which is exactly how we get to the star-chamber plan from Figliuzzi. Just how does a “bipartisan commission” demand tax returns, anyway, and what happens when candidates refuse? Do they get disqualified from the ballot, and if so, under what authority? Even more to the point — who sits on this star chamber to vet political candidates in place of voters? How do they get on such a panel?
What Figliuzzi describes here isn’t democracy. It’s an oligarchy at best, and it’s a bit reminiscent of how Iran operates their elections. The ruling mullahs “vet” candidates for office there, which ensures that the government remains under their control rather than the people of Iran. In any configuration, it’s a mechanism to ensure the survival of the current governing elite, which would make them a ruling elite in short order, and eliminate accountability for their failures.
I’d rather trust the voters, and let them correct their own mistakes, than have a “commission” restrict options to its own preferences.