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Even a political microscope can miss nuances

Apr 05. 2019
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What Thailand might learn from the latest assault on US President Donald Trump

An effort by United States Democrats to have Republican President Donald Trump’s personal tax records finally revealed after two years in office is a controversial move already being characterised as congressional overreach, and it could easily backfire. 

CNN is among American news outlets whose commentators are backing the call, saying tax records are the simplest way to determine a politician’s honesty. The request by House Democrats for six years of Trump’s tax returns has never been attempted at such a high level before “simply because no president in recent times has resisted such a basic test of transparency”, a CNN anchor said this week. The obvious issue here is that this is clearly more political than a matter of constitutional legality. 

And there is a Thai conundrum tied into this right now.

Foreign viewers have to be wary of reports emanating from many US news media outlets, the spectrum of which has as its perimeters the conservative fundamentalist Fox News and the equally biased liberalism of MSNBC. But most American reporters are understandably critical of the brash, reckless Trump. A president less dangerous to democratic principles and global protocols might be forgiven for breaking with precedent and refusing to make his tax returns public, portraying demands to do so as an unjust conspiracy among political rivals.

No investigation into wealthy political officeholders’ taxes should be subject to political considerations. Citizens deserve to know if their chosen or aspiring leaders are tax cheats. If they’re capable of that, what else might they do while in office? Yet the investigations themselves should never be politicised. Institutionalised oversight can miss instances of wrongdoing, but the electorate ought to be smart enough to tell the difference between an honest mistake and intentional fraud. 

Crooked politicians often manage to mask their bigger crimes only to be exposed because of their inattention to the small details. This is why, in Thailand and elsewhere, powerful and even supremely popular politicians have been caught over minor infractions. Too often they cry “political persecution” but, in all fairness to the accused, the question has to be asked, were these minor incidents isolated? Did they stem from mere oversight?

Before being elected as president, Trump was a prominent businessman, so digging into his past tax records is justified. If they demonstrate that he earned his private wealth honestly, Americans are in a better position to feel assured they have a decent man in the White House. If the records indicate otherwise, there is justifiable concern as to whether the federal budget is in good hands.

Now, what has this to do with Thailand? Here, we have a rising political star, the leader of a newly founded party that did extremely well in the March 24 election, facing intense pressure from powerful enemies and a sizeable segment of the public too. He is embroiled in issues involving free speech and legally dubious acts.

It is imperative that the charges being levied against him be examined with open minds. This man has made comments that are invoking debate over freedom of speech, and at the same time there are questions regarding his past ownership of corporate shares that amount to another issue entirely. In the current political climate, both cases have become muddled and unfairly politicised. They must be considered and handled separately if the country is to become legally, politically and morally mature.

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