Pearl River Paying attention to President Trump’s tweets is a fool’s errand, best delegated to journalists paid for the practice. These are “thought bombs” sometimes disguised as policy or personnel decisions. They are “Mission Impossible” instructions that dissolve or explode in many cases almost as soon as they are written. Little more than blustering masked as orders to subordinates and governmental departments, rather than something real. Yet, it’s a window to the darkness, because it’s the stick he’s using to stir the devil’s brew of mischief and mayhem that he is trying to use to move his base.
The other day he tweeted that he had ordered the Treasury Department to investigate the tax-exemptions of universities because, in his words, they were more involved in “Radical-Left indoctrination, than education.” Obviously, this is balderdash. He’s grasping at straws because he’s desperate for universities to reopen, so he can pretend everything is hunky-dory with the virus this fall on Election Day. Some, like Harvard and MIT, are even suing him over his attempts to deny visas to foreign students and their families if they are not fully enrolled in classes. All of this despite reports that 60% of the nation’s colleges and universities have already announced that they plan to go full-tilt in the fall, because their business model depends on it.
Little matter. President Trump feels he can’t go wrong by attacking universities because of the deep-seated anti-intellectualism that has been an undercurrent of American politics for decades.
Playing to the cheap seats is a Trump specialty, so why would we even bother to note it? Simply put, because attacking tax-exemptions, even in such a shotgun style, harkens back towards a Nixonian-style “enemies list.” It’s a standard tool of autocrats. It’s why Russia’s Putin years ago denied licenses for nonprofits of every persuasion. It’s why India’s Modi has delisted thousands of nonprofits and denied their ability to operate from Greenpeace to the Ford Foundation. Attacking tax-exemptions for educational and charitable organizations is designed to chill their activity and leave them cowering. Often it works.
Remember the controversy with the IRS during the Obama years? Tea Party groups claimed they were being denied tax-exemptions by the IRS, often concealing the fact that the IRS was also investigating left-liberal applications as well. Republican-controlled Congressional committees have managed to defund the tax-exempt division of the IRS subsequently, leading to more approvals and less scrutiny, so they couldn’t follow Trump’s tweet-storm, even if they wanted to do so. The IRS at every level is overwhelmed. Recent reports indicate that refunds will be issued in the by and by at best.
Finally, the issue for tax-exemption, if Trump asks any of you, is not whether there is a political orientation, but whether the activity is nonpartisan. Tea Party zealots are able to apply and receive exemptions and so are Radical-Left outfits, as long as they are about education and charitable purposes, rather than supporting candidates, like Trump, or parties like the Republicans or the Democrats. Universities are just grist in that mill. Tweet away, Mr. President, no one is listening anymore, but we are still keeping count and filing away the information for November.