Nationwide protests against President Donald Trump broke out again this past weekend, this time with a singular demand: Show us your tax returns. Here in Colorado Springs, about 300 people backed that message at a rally in front of City Hall, with speakers, signs and chants harping on the opaque Oval Office.
The saga began long before campaign season, as Trump promised for years to release his tax returns, even chiding former presidential candidate Mitt Romney for not releasing his quickly enough. Then, he promised to release his once Barack Obama released his birth certificate. Obama released that document in 2014, no tax returns. Trump said he'd do it if he were running for office. He ran for office, no tax returns. During this campaign cycle, Trump justified not releasing them by saying he was being audited, making him the only presidential candidate in the past half-century whose finances are secret. Trump opponents and supporters alike have urged him to release the paperwork, and put an end to rumors about his income, debts, and the amount of taxes he's paid (or avoided paying). The wealthy real estate mogul and former reality TV star hasn't budged, claiming no one really cares about his tax returns and insinuating that evading taxes is an indicator of business acumen.
At the rally on Sunday, April 15, a day chosen for symbolic punch, El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Electra Johnson declared that paying taxes is a patriotic duty. Her call to "de-Bruce" local government (i.e., remove caps on tax revenue collections) elicited rowdy cheers from the crowd. As for what might be in the president's tax returns, Johnson had this taunt: "If you've got nothing to hide, why not be transparent?"
Later that afternoon, across Nevada Avenue in Acacia Park, a smaller pro-Trump contingent (about 120 people) taunted back, emphasizing that the election is over. The rally, hosted by the El Paso County GOP, wasn't framed as an explicit response to the morning's activities, but rather as a simple show of support for the president. Nonetheless, KVOR talk radio host Richard Randall, who emceed the rally, fixated on dissing the anti-Trump protesters, at one point nearly hissing the words "pussy hat" at a middle-aged woman who wore one on enemy turf.
Patriotism and prayer were central themes of the Republican rally, but there was some substance too. About the tax returns, U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said "it's fine" that Trump didn't release them, because no American citizen should have to. "Freedom!" someone yelled out in affirmation.
Most audience members were similarly nonplussed. "I was going to vote for him no matter what, so it doesn't matter what's in there," said Alex Mahr, 27, wearing a red-white-and-blue bandanna. Admitting he would've been up in arms had Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton not released her tax returns (she did), he acknowledged that people are "allowed to feel suspicious [of Trump]."
Because the disclosure is a voluntary tradition, not a statutory requirement, Mahr feels it's wise for the president to keep his tax returns secret, lest they contain something that causes "everyone to turn on him."