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Editorial Trump’s tax returns, trust and confidence in change

NEWS that Donald Trump paid no federal tax in 10 of the last 15 years will likely be met with a shrug in Britain.

The US President has made such a meal out of not releasing his tax returns — he will, he won’t, they’re none of anyone else’s business, they can’t be released as they’re being audited, voters aren’t interested. Nobody who has followed this saga could conclude that the tax returns show the president as a good citizen.

The New York Times revelations, which Trump decries as inaccurate, are only significant as a symbol of the divorce between the transnational super-rich and ordinary people who can no more determine the amount of tax they pay than live wherever they like.

Trump’s comic-book-style exploitation of his office for personal gain — charging the secret service a fortune to protect him when this requires accommodation at his hotels or golf courses, for example — should not distract from the fact that private profit and public office are now inextricably intertwined in Britain no less than in the United States. 

You cannot prove corruption in circumstances like the government handing PPE supply contracts worth tens of millions to Meller Designs Limited, a firm co-owned by a major Tory donor.

Or, to go back a few years, in Theresa May’s husband Philip’s investment firm Capital Group making a killing, because of its shareholdings in arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, from her administration’s decision to bomb Syria in April 2018. 

Or, taking a longer trip down memory lane, in Tony Blair’s health secretary Patricia Hewitt taking up a retirement post as a non-executive director at private healthcare corporation Bupa, one of the firms she welcomed into the “NHS Partners Network” in 2006 to deliver NHS services for a profit.

You cannot prove corruption. But, like Trump’s tax returns, they speak of a networked elite whose interests are not ours. Social cohesion relies on the idea that those at the top have some shared interest with everybody else. 

Often this relies on ignorance of the real motives of the people who rule us — which is why the publication by revolutionary Russia of the first world war’s “secret treaties” were so damaging to European ruling classes, just as nearly a century later the Panama papers caused outrage as people realised that Britain’s prime minister and even the Queen were beneficiaries of tax evasion.

Tax evasion was a big topic during the early years of “austerity” Britain — it spoke to the injustice sensed by ordinary people realising the rich were not required to make sacrifices like everyone else.

It even led to a consumer boycott of Starbucks that tangibly hit the company’s profits, and it fed the narrative of the 99 per cent and the 1 per cent that helped give birth to the socialist revival known as Corbynism.

But the racket continues, and the risk now is that the pervasive sense that those who rule us are all in it for themselves leads not to a collective struggle to throw off the parasites but to apathy and political disengagement. 

An assumption that politicians’ promises cannot be trusted seriously damaged Corbyn’s Labour, once its convoluted Brexit manoeuvring killed off its reputation for “straight-talking, honest politics.” It explains why a manifesto packed with policies commanding overwhelming public support failed to cut ice across huge regions of Britain. 

The defeat of that project makes the risk of mass “political lapse” even higher. Pointing to the undoubted corruption and worthlessness of the likes of Trump is not a sufficient argument for an alternative. 

The left’s path to renewed credibility doesn’t rest on parliamentary votes or policy statements — let alone vague and ahistorical waffle about “values,” as preferred by Labour’s new leadership. 

It rests on engagement, activism and organisation. On demonstrating, through mobilising to defend jobs, homes, high streets, communities, that a different kind of world can exist.

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