Jack George

Naked Politics Blogger 

Patriotism is tough to measure. It is an ambiguous virtue, oscillating between a tell-tale symbol of bigotry and the sign of sincere selflessness. At either extreme, the patriot self-identifies with a certain community, a certain idea of a group. It is therefore a useful trait to have when running to be the leader of a nation—especially when that nation is founded on a set of principles and not ethno-cultural happenstance. The community of people that make up the USA have a clear and delineated history and (at least in ideal) no defining ethnic characteristics. Anyone can become an ‘American’, all you need is the passport and a certain set of values, namely a belief in ‘freedom’.

Socially acceptable patriotism can be displayed in several ways, most obviously through distinguished military or public service. And at the very least, obeying the laws that are conducive to the nation upholding its values. Taxation is the least exceptional form of national obedience, the most banal form of state devotion. Accepting that you owe a fair share of your wealth to the state where you earned that wealth is both common practice and a basic sign of civil decency.

Donald Trump twice admitted to not paying federal income tax when challenged on it by his presidential nominee rival Hillary  Clinton during the first presidential debate of this election cycle. He called his behaviour ‘smart’ before later suggesting that if he had paid his taxes these would have been squandered. Clinton insisted on the fact that this represented money for the armed forces, hospitals and education. Trump consciously avoided giving money to the entity that he seeks to run, the US government.

Of course this rhetoric fits his general message: America is not great, Trump shall therefore make it great again. If a thing is not great, then why spend money on it? The converse must also be true: only spend money on things you think are great. The same logic cropped up when Clinton mentioned a man who Trump hired to do a service but then did not pay because he was unsatisfied by his work. The contract is unimportant; all that matters is your own personal opinion of the service provided.

The implications are unsettling. If you can avoid paying tax because you disagree with the government’s spending, then you can probably bear flaunting any law, so long as you think you are above what it stands for. A trending tweet has been encouraging people to stay in a Trump hotel and refuse to pay the bill, saying that it was not up to your standards. Because that’s the thing about personal standards: they are invisible, and may as well not exist. You can only be judged in relation to others.

In this respect Trump fairs remarkably badly. When discussing their respective economic plans, Hillary Clinton pointed out that Trump was vocal and excited during the last financial crash and proudly made millions off the back of that great recession. This did not phase him, he did not even whisper an objection, he just said: ‘that’s business.’ Making money off the backs of the broken, that is what counts as business. Thousands of jobs were lost, six million Americans lost their homes, and thousands of livelihoods were threatened. It was a global economic disaster but it was felt sharply in the US. And it leaves us with an important question: what true patriot would greet a national disaster with glee?

But this does not seem to worry his supporters. Trump is comfortable lavishing praise on Putin and the strength of foreign autocrats, never for one moment hesitating, never considering that he may be doing his own country a great disservice by bringing to the fore millions of its citizens’ most base instincts. He openly takes pride in his own blustering selfishness and suggests that this is the thing that more Americans should embrace. His unashamedly personal disavowal of taxation, contractual arrangements and civic decency make him an outrageous proposition for a leader of a country.

Yet his recent suggestion that the kneeling-protest of Colin Kaepernick merited that Mr. Kaepernick leave his own country, which, as well as showing that people of colour’s citizenship is contingent on good behavior, showed how willing he is to wave the stars and stripes to suit his political purpose. He bangs on and on and on about making America great, but surely even his most ardent supporters can now smell the stench of hypocrisy: surely getting on your knees to protest injustice shows more love for one’s nation than does the open exploitation and neglect of one’s civic duties.

If Trump does not care to pay tax, he does not care about the people of America.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018