I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours: Tax Returns vs. Medical Records

ZACHARY SMITH—“Where are your tax returns, Donald?” “Well, where are your medical records, Hillary?” If you ask me, these questions seem petty, but maybe I’m in the minority. Either way, this begs the question—how did we get to the point where we care more about speculating the severity of a cough or how much is given to charity, than real substantive issues? Put another way, it’s hard to believe that George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln were elected only after they proved a clean bill of health.

Even with the present in mind, it’s important to take a step back and see what is constitutionally required to become President of the United States of America.

“No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.” U.S Constitution, Article II

Great, you’re over 35, a U.S Citizen, and have been for the last fourteen years; time to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, right?

Wrong. These constitutional requirements only provide a prima facie case; a candidate’s representation that, on paper, they are legally “qualified.” But a prima facie case only gets your foot in the hypothetical door, and only then, will one be tried on their merits.

Here, the correlation between a presidential election and a trial by jury are unmistakable. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have filed claims against each other; Secretary Clinton believes that her claim entitles her to become president, and in opposition, Mr. Trump’s claim states that he is the rightful leader. Because both candidates are constitutionally qualified, their claims survive dismissal, and have earned the privilege of being decided in open court, i.e., during the presidential election. The decision of whose claim is superior now belongs to the factual determinations of the voting public.

In this sense, the voting public is analogous to a jury.  The voting public in this case hears the evidence, listens to live testimony (policy positions and responses to questioning), but also judges the demeanor, truthfulness, and honesty of the candidates in order to reach its conclusion.

Certainly, tax returns are important; there is a lot one can tell about a person’s financial history, in fact, many professional job applications require financial reports. Surely, medical records are important because the job of President of the United States requires unimaginable stamina, and the voting public has the right to know that whomever it elects can physically handle the immense pressure for at least four years. But, these posed questions, albeit in the form of demands, for disclosure of personal information do not necessarily have substantial merit or probative value; having a medical condition or less money than you claim does not, by itself, disqualify a candidate.

Instead, the questions themselves, “Where are your tax returns, Donald?” and the rebuttal of “Where are your medical records, Hillary?” offer the jury the opportunity to judge the candidates’ responses (or lack thereof), their demeanor, honesty, and overall ability to handle the job. Put simply, the jury’s perceptions of the responses are what gives medical records and tax returns most of their probative value.

Unfortunately, the voting-public-jury has a large obstacle to overcome when determining how much value to place upon the candidates’ responses. Campaign managers and the media play the role of a skillful lawyer whose sole job is to skew the evidence in their candidates’ favor. These “skillful lawyers” distract the jury from the facts that possess the type of relevancy that should determine the outcome by focusing on the other parties flaws instead of their client’s strengths.

So are medical records and tax returns important?

Certainly—but they are not the only relevant factor. Our job is to push back against what those controlling the trial want us to see and use our own judgement to determine just how much weight each individual piece of evidence should possess. In today’s court room, this is certainly not an easy task. Although there is no known formula to pick a president, one can’t help but realize that this entire election is out-of-sync; what should only matter slightly now appears to be the only thing that matters.

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