Gary Horton | Healthy Democracy and Transparency Go Hand in Hand

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“We have been, I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of the country by far.” So said Donald Trump back in April 2019 – as he has similarly riffed throughout all his presidency. 

I don’t know how Trump does it. Trump has achieved a lock-hold on at least 30% of the American electorate, and they believe, almost to each syllable, every word he speaks. Trump doesn’t disclose anything, doesn’t provide evidence or facts. Donald Trump is a master-manipulator’s manipulator. Anything is believed, with no disclosure necessary.

For the other 70% of Americans still clear-thinking, the topic of transparency in the Trump administration is paramount. 

It’s our money he’s spending. It’s our future he’s determining. It’s our budget he’s blowing – with a trillion-dollar deficit. And it’s our country’s reputation many feel he’s trashing. 

In our democracy, we’re supposed to be engaged, and we’re supposed to know what the people’s elected representatives are up to.

There are few actual grounds for presidential secrets. Military secrets and high diplomatic negotiations are rightfully so. Even in these situations, select members of Congress need to know, so as to conduct the proper oversight with which they’ve been charged. 

What we’ve instead seen is opposite. Much of what’s happening in Trump’s administration remains out of sight, with only the tiniest windows providing illuminating light.

We have a duty to know what the president is up to. Yet, we don’t see as much as an official press conference. America has not had a proper press conference sharing real information with the American people in 300 days. 

Recently, a group of past press secretaries signed the following statement, “We respectfully urge the resumption of regular press briefings across our government, especially in the places where Americans want the truth, our allies in the world want information, and where all of us, hopefully, want to see American values reflected.”

But so far, crickets.

Meanwhile, the past week has been a dust-devil of mish-mashed news. The U.S. assassination of a major Iranian public figure. Shells hitting American bases. Almost one more Middle Eastern war. The downing of a Ukrainian jetliner. All while an impeachment was still going on… lest we forget. 

Meanwhile, hidden behind the mind-blast of the above, the rest of Trump’s machinations hummed on, nicely bumped off the front page and out of public view: 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wrestled Congress to keep Trump’s travel expenses under wraps until after the 2020 presidential election. Judicial Watch and CBO issued tidbits indicating the amount of public funds for Trump family travel would be quite embarrassing, with estimates running from 1.5 times to up to nine times higher than during the Obama years. 

Trump, who famously harangued Obama for golfing, spends most weekends at Mar-a-Lago or other of his resorts, at tremendous public expense, dragging a full entourage along at every move. Tens of millions, some say even hundreds of millions have already been spent – but Trump is stonewalling the numbers. 

Public expenditures should be transparent. We have a right to “follow the money,” if we’re going to hold our office holders to account. 

But no. You don’t get to see them. Not until after the election, says Mnuchin. This is “total BS.” But this obfuscation follows form of just about everything else Trumpian.

You want witnesses about Ukraine? No way. Trump gagged everyone within his power to gag. And the free-to-speak folks who did speak, spilled sufficient beans to lead to impeachment.  

Yet, honest folks have nothing to hide. 

It might have been nice to hear from Bolton and the rest of the gang. But you and I don’t get to. The truth to prove innocence or guilt has been repressed by our president.

The United States of America just assassinated a leading Iranian military figure. Why him, why now? Democratic AND Republican senators and congressmen have been aghast at the lack of disclosure. “He was plotting this. Or that. Or something. An embassy. Maybe four embassies. It doesn’t matter, he was going to plot something.” 

No concrete answers have been forthcoming to either Congress or the public. The message is, “It’s not really your business.” 

This is no way to run a democracy.

Tax returns? Though once promised, now we just don’t need to know. Every possible means is employed to delay their release. Because, “There’s nothing there to hide.” Connections to Russia through German banks? We don’t need to know. 

Stormy Daniels? “I don’t know her.” Trump said that, right to you and me, right to the camera, while entering Air Force One. He didn’t know her — until the $130,000 coverup check he signed came to light. 

One may love or hate Trump. Still, there’s need for transparency in our presidency if we are going to keep a functioning national democracy. To tolerate hidden dealing is to beg for a dictator, not a president. The executive branch is so potentially powerful, it must be constrained by sufficient and generous daylight on as much of its operations as is reasonably possible. Yet Trump has made secrecy his practice rather than his exception, and too many are A-OK with it all.

We’re rightly told, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Yet on a previously unknown scale, we’re tolerating a president cloaked and soaked in such darkness. 

If we want to preserve democracy we must insist in far greater transparency, ending the obfuscation that is now manipulated upon us. If you want a line of future dictators, let’s allow the presidency ever-greater hidden powers and hidden lies.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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