Time to focus on Trump’s decisions as president, not sideshows

From tax returns to business deals, press and protests missing the mark.

I don’t really care what’s in President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Sure, I think Trump shows real contempt for citizens and for good government by refusing to do what all recent presidents have done without any fuss.  Yes, his refusal is another neon sign advertising a menu of character and ethical deficits. But we already know Trump is rich so who cares if he is richer or poorer than we think? We already know the tax tricks real estate developers and “one-percenters” use, so who cares about the details?

Trump’s tax returns are a third tier flap at a moment fraught with urgent, first-tier issues.

Yet it was Trump’s tax returns that brought protestors out all across the country the other day. Activism like that is a great thing, but it would be so much better off trying to serve a greater cause – and there are many.

It is Trump’s refusal to release his tax forms that Democrats hold up as the prime reason they cannot and will not participate in negotiations about tax reform.  They argue that it would be wrong to proceed without knowing how legislation might further enrich Trump, his family and empire.

Well I have news: There are many worse problems on the docket than Donald Trump getting richer in sleazy ways. That would be a high moral crime indeed, but trivial compared to missile strikes, games of nuclear chicken and sabotaging health insurance systems.

Americans know this and polling makes clear that they care more about those matters than Trump’s taxes, Ivanka’s brand and Jarrett’s real estate holdings. And those Trump voters who have become wobbly in their support certainly don’t care about that stuff ­– they never have. Trump’s opponents would do better to focus on meatier matters.

Donald Trump now has a record, albeit short, as President of the United States. He has taken important actions and made decisions that could have important consequences. But the citizen opposition, professional party opposition and the press, I fear, are trying to steer too much of our diminishing national attention span on third-tier issues like Trump’s tax returns.

Exhibit A: The missile strikes on a Syrian airfield after Syria allegedly used chemical weapons on civilians.  The strikes took place on April 6, just a few weeks ago, and they are basically out of the news now. Google searches now turn up just as many or more news stories about how the strikes affected Trump’s poll numbers than stories on the policy, diplomatic or military fallout. But many crucial unanswered questions remain.

Did the strikes significantly diminish Syria’s capacity to use chemical weapons or commit other war crimes? (The answer seems to be no.)  Trump said he was moved by videos of stricken children: Do we know how many Syrian children have died from conventional arms recently? Or how many Syrian children died in refugee camps? Or why Trump’s policy is to avenge some children’s killings but not others?

We know that Russia says it is outraged by the strikes, but do we know yet if it really is? We know that in March there were 1,755 alleged civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, many times more than any prior period in Operation Inherent Resolve, but we don’t know if this will continue as the new strategy.

Exhibit B: A few days after the U.S. missile attack on Syria, the Trump administration sent another message of military might to another dangerous nemesis, North Korea.  “We’re sending an armada,” Trump said to Fox News, meaning the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and escort vessels.  Fears of war and nuclear weapons erupted in South Korea. Trump followed up with a bellicose tweet, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”

Now we have learned the armada was actually sailing in the opposite direction, heading to military exercises with the Australian navy 3,500 away from Korea in the Indian Ocean.

Was this colossal and dangerous blunder of Trump’s own making or the Navy’s fault? What credibility can the president have when he acts and tweets in such a cavalier manner even when the core issue is nuclear war?

These are questions about high stakes actions taken by President Trump, not about his past, his fortune or his business dealings. They are more important.

There is a vast and dire credibility drought in American politics.

The press, the Democrats and anti-Trump activists squander what little authority they have left when there is too much focus on the lesser issues of the day, even if they’re they ones that can generate better theater and Tweets.

All the world is not a stage.

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