Opinion: To defeat Trump in 2020, Democrats must stop playing his game
Hold this non-transparent president accountable for his actions
By Chris Edelson July 1, 2019
As attention focuses on the Democratic candidates vying to take on President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, it’s important that voters not give Trump a pass. Although he is president, Trump is also a candidate. The president’s record — both in and out of office — demands scrutiny.
At this point, many Americans have become numb to Trump’s persistent lies. But Trump’s preposterous claim to be the “most transparent…president in history” strikes at the core of what is dangerous about Trump, as we were reminded in June when he told George Stephanopolous that he is open to listening to representatives of foreign countries who offer damaging information about his political opponents.
Americans learned — after the 2016 presidential election — that Trump and his campaign team had been lying about their contacts and business negotiations with Russia, even as Russia was using stolen material to help Trump win the election.
What will Trump try to cover up during the 2020 presidential campaign?
The obvious question to ask now is, what will Trump try to cover up during the 2020 presidential campaign? This time, we need to know what is happening in real time — not months or years later. We know that Trump will do his best to keep voters from having the information they need in order to assess his bid for re-election. Trump’s dishonest boast about his transparency is a reminder that we must insist on getting answers to central questions.
As a candidate and as president, Trump has broken with longstanding practice by denying voters and members of Congress access to even the most basic information needed to exercise due diligence. His tax returns remain secret. His former doctor says Trump aides raided his office and seized Trump’s medical files. During the 2016 campaign, Trump made his supposed business acumen and success a centerpiece of his campaign, insisting that he was a self-made man. After the election, we learned that Trump had received “the equivalent [in today’s dollars] of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler.”
Trump’s deceptions amounted to a fraud on the U.S. electorate. In 2016, he presented himself as something he is not: an independently successful real estate mogul who had “nothing to do” with Russia (and we haven’t even talked about the secret payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal).
Having gotten away with this once (or really, for his entire life so far), Trump understandably believes he can get away with it again — that he can lie about his “transparency” even while he continues to stonewall voters and members of Congress.
These are the tactics of a would-be authoritarian — someone who does not believe in constitutional democracy and does not believe the ordinary rules that apply to us apply to him.
Fortunately, Trump has not yet succeeded in subverting American democracy. The institutions of our constitutional republic continue to function, at least in part. Unfortunately, there are signs of serious dysfunction. It is clear that nothing will be enough to move congressional Republicans to act. Even Trump’s public invitation to foreign countries interested in attacking the U.S. election again failed to rouse Republicans from their stupor. But other central pillars in our system remain in place — most notably, elections and the press.
Those who believe in holding a president accountable must take advantage of the tools available. For journalists, that means refusing to allow Trump to avoid questions about his past — both his record before he ran for president and his record in office. There is a lot we still don’t know, ranging from the sources of his income to the details of his dealings with foreign actors who have been lining his pockets while he has been in office.
In light of Trump’s openly declared willingness to hear from foreign entities who would like to help him win re-election, it will be essential to know what his campaign is doing (or perhaps has already done) along these lines. For voters, it is necessary to see through the deceptions. Donald Trump is a con man — and so far, a successful con man. Whether Americans keep falling for his game is ultimately up to us.
Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. He has written two books on presidential power.