There are many conventions in life that smooth social interaction. Nothing hard and fast that is codified in law, you understand, yet ingrained enough that we know when they are missing.
Mothers the world around teach their children to be polite. “Please” and “thank you” were uniquely important words to your mother, who taught that these simple phrases would help smooth your way through life — from getting the attention of the little red-haired girl to making a favorable impression on your boss.
Even Virginia, with its history of slavery and Jim Crow, had its genteel conventions.
There are other social conventions designed to show character and smooth the way. In the political world, the great senators of our history always spoke about their colleagues as ”the honorable.” You don’t hear that much anymore.
In the rhythm of American politics, the equivalent of “please” and “thank you” was the self-effacing candidate making his tax returns public. A small step perhaps, certainly not required by law, but a widely-held convention that showed character and forthrightness. That has suddenly stopped.
Making a campaign claim for how extravagantly rich he was, Donald Trump has shrunk away from the “please” and “thank you” of politics and the modest convention of making his tax returns public. “No one cares,” he reportedly sniffs, about his tax returns.
Trump’s appointees are put in a difficult position.
To get through a congressional hearing there is considerable paperwork that must be filled out and submitted in a timely manner. If the boss refuses, does the appointee bluff it out so as not embarrass the boss, or comply with standard procedure and expectations?
So, the paperwork is not filed in a timely manner, thereby holding up the constitutionally required hearings of “advise and consent.”
It would be impolite to ask how Trump knows that no one cares about his tax filings, current or past (of course, hundreds of reporters are doing just that). He does not have a good record of separating fact from fiction, anyway. He insisted for years that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and then realized sticking with that fiction wasn’t good for the campaign so he admitted, just before the election, that, well, Obama was actually an American citizen.
Recently, the White House had to apologize to the British for Trump’s tweets in which he blamed British intelligence for bugging Trump Tower; press spokesman Sean Spicer still had to say that Trump believes what he believes and that facts are simply not pertinent.
Twice now, documents have appeared which are the first two pages of Trump’s Internal Revenue Service Form 1040 filed. Who has only the first two pages of a 1040 filing? The owner. They are of no use to anyone else. The Schedules A, B and others are the forms that tell the whole story of sources of income and deductions taken. Some other person who might have had and disclosed these records certainly would have had the entire filing, including all the supplementary forms.
Speculation is that Trump’s inner circle is the source of these disclosures as a ruse to divert attention from all the years when he probably did not pay any taxes at all.
It seems 2005 may have been the one instance in which he actually did pay them. We now know that Trump, as a young entrepreneur, used to call up the tabloids using an alias, to get his name in the papers. These tax forms are probably a paper version of the same game.
Trump’s language and conduct during the campaign and after the election seem to illustrate that his mother didn’t spend much time teaching him the social conventions — the “pleases” and “thank yous” of society. If she did, there is no evidence that it “took.” There certainly is no “please” or “thank you” in his demeanor. Everyone gasps at his treatment of his wife, who must take care of herself in the rain or entering a car. Don’t we all wish our husbands and fathers treated us like that?
Perhaps where “thank you” is most evident is in Trump’s public policies.
Doling out $500 million in tax breaks to health company CEOs, and cutting 24 million people off health insurance certainly demonstrates where his sympathies lie. Zeroing out the budget that helps protect the Chesapeake Bay, or frankly, appointing the fox to watch the EPA hen house, certainly says “thank you” to major polluters. These are ways of saying “thank you” to the rich and famous, and are invitations to despoil, not restore.
We hear complaints about coarse, corrosive and condescending language in our politics. We seem to be tiring of treating each other with respect. We might want to more diligently practice those long ago instructions about the value of “please” and “thank you” and begin acting in a more socially responsible way.
Shame on us if we don’t see that someone who flaunts social convention is diminishing himself and us. “Please” and “thank you” should never go out of style.
Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with author’s permission and originally appeared here.