There is no law requiring that politicians, especially those aspiring to or holding the office of U.S. president, be required to submit their tax records or their medical information. Nor should there be.
The media has hounded candidates about these medical records since the 1960s following Kennedy’s assassination and about tax records since the 1970s following Watergate. Despite the lack of a law, the media has demanded the release of these records and acts outraged when it does not get access to them. This is great stuff for media reporting, especially the modern-day media that has increasingly blurred the lines into “gotcha” “breaking news” tabloid operation.
But is it necessary for us? Some will say yes vehemently. But that is an extreme position.
Has the average person ever looked at a candidate’s published tax returns or their medical record? Of course not. Taxnotes.com publishes all the available tax returns of candidates that you can look at, but you will become bored very quickly. In general, we have our opinions of these things shaped by what the media tells us. That is fine. But if we are made to care, it is by the media’s interest. Again, in many cases that is fine also, there are lots of areas we would never know about if not investigated or reported by the media.
In this case, however, it is none of our business, pure and simple. Yes, there are arguments to be made that it is our business – the public’s right to know, the conflict of financial interest that could be present, the fitness for office, blah blah blah. These are not totally made up arguments. There is some merit to them, but they do not justify a violation of privacy.
Of course, this tax issue arises because Trump has refused to release his tax information as a candidate and as president. Are the reasons he has given e.g. “They are being audited” genuine? Of course not. Is there anything embarrassing, unseemly, or possibly unethical in his tax returns? Without having seen them I am 99% sure there is. You can assume all sorts of things about Trump and you will probably be right. But that doesn’t make it okay to “demand” that a person’s private information be disclosed to the public and even worse to be ethically offended without the release.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a Congressional subpoena requiring Trump’s financial information is within Congress’s authority. My point here has nothing to do with this. Subpoenas and Congressional vs Executive power is an entirely different subject.
Medical records are even more private than tax records. Bernie Sanders was hounded by some media for not releasing all the details after a heart attack in October of 2019. He shouldn’t have to release anything, for heaven’s sake. These are his personal medical records. Obviously Bernie is older and as such is more prone to medical problems. The chances of a 78-year-old making it through four years of the presidency are lower on average than a 40-year-old. We all know that.
What if your employer demanded your financial and medical detail history if not job-related? I’m pretty sure there would be outrage. Creating justifications to violate someone’s privacy doesn’t make it right.
Alan Calandro of Burlington is the former Director of the state’s Nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.