How Smart Is It?

In my book, The U.S. Constitution and You, I talk about the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. I say:

Protecting these rights also means you have important responsibilities. One responsibility is to vote so you can choose leaders and lawmakers who will act wisely and protect your rights. Another responsibility is to serve on juries, to protect the right to jury trials. Another responsibility is to pay taxes so that the government gets the money it needs to do its many jobs.


This week, Donald Trump, a candidate for president of the United States, boasted that if he didn't pay taxes (without admitting that he didn't), it was "smart."

The United States has been very good to Donald Trump and his family. They've made a lot of money and live very well. They would say that they've worked hard for their riches and earned them by making tough, smart business decisions.

And that may be so. But would Donald Trump have done so well financially without the many, many government services that he thinks it's not "smart" to pay for? Don't he and the equipment and materials his companies use to build his empire use the highways and bridges and other transportation systems that taxpayer dollars build and maintain? When he flies in his private planes isn't his safety the responsibility of air traffic controllers who work for the government? Haven't many, if not most, of his employees been prepared for their jobs through public education? Isn't the food he eats, the water he drinks, the air he breathes, and the medications he may take kept safe by employees paid by the government? Aren't his many properties protected by police and firefighters whose equipment and salaries are paid through taxes? Isn't the security of his buildings and the people in them the responsibility of homeland security and defense employees who are paid from the government treasury and using advanced equipment purchased with tax dollars? And haven't the Trumps, of all business people, used and benefited from the courts to protect their business interests and to take action against people who they say have wronged them? Surely Donald Trump knows these services are not free. Does he really think that taking something for nothing that most of the rest of us pay for is "smart?"

No, I don't think it's smart not to pay your fair share for government services. I think it's appalling, especially when you've used those services to make so much. And I think it's an insult to the rest of us to brag about it.

I tell kids that we live by certain rules in this country. One is that in exchange for the freedoms and opportunities we have, we owe our country certain civic duties. That includes paying taxes. When a guy who wants to lead the country is essentially telling children that it's not "smart" to perform your civic responsibility, he's telling them that being a good citizen is for losers.

And that's the kind of message that not only is not smart, it's also very dangerous.

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