Donald Trump. (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

First things first, Donald Trump: Release. Your. Tax. Returns.

No excuses.

Second, if we have to have a cartoon character running for president, I would prefer Bart Simpson. He has better writers and a healthier sense of self-awareness.

Like Donald Trump, Bart clings to a life’s philosophy best summed up as, “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it, unless it’s something good, in which case I did do it, even if I didn’t do it.”

That said, while Bart rarely can discern right from wrong, he frowns on bad organization and a lack of finesse. Of the Trump campaign, he would look askance and dismissively pronounce, as he has of other fiascoes, “This is senseless destruction with none of my usual social commentary.”

Bart also has a finer comprehension than Trump of government and the US Constitution, a document he supports and understands, but about which he forthrightly declares, “I’m pretty sure the Patriot Act killed it to ensure our freedoms.”

But back to those tax returns. According to experts, the old “I’m being audited and can’t release them” argument does not hold water. For the umpteenth time, what is Trump hiding?

Of course, many have speculated for months that his obfuscating is because he has much less money than he claims; some have suggested that the returns would reveal that Trump is a complete chiseler when it comes to contributing to charity.

But like others, I believe that what’s in those documents would reveal how deeply in hock Trump is to overseas investors, especially the Russian oligarchs. How could we have a president with hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign debt? How effectively could Trump engage as a leader of the United States when he personally owes other countries’ financiers a fortune? This is almost as frightening as the prospect of Trump waking up in a cranky pants mood and eighty-sixing the planet. Almost.

The relationship among Trump, his advisors and Russia is deeply troubling and not because of Cold War-era paranoia about the Communist threat (although it is fascinating to see how the possible involvement of Russia in this election is both stirring up that nostalgic paranoia while at the same time opening old fissures on the left, as if we were back debating Khrushchev’s 1956 denunciation of Stalin and the cult of personality).

No, what’s truly disturbing is the prospect of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, each an exemplar of thuggish ultra-nationalism, joining hands and merrily dragging the rest of us down the lane to a kleptocratic, even fascist hell. And in the end, it’s all about the money.

Bad enough that many intelligence and computer experts seem to agree that the recent cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign are the handiwork of hackers in the employ of Russian security services. The long-suspected machinations of several DNC staffers against the Bernie Sanders campaign that were revealed by the hacks, while indeed worthy of condemnation, do not justify the act itself. Nor do the many past acts of interference by the United States in the electoral process of friends and enemies. But as many have noted, we once voted to impeach a president after a break-in at Democratic headquarters; this current breach should be taken no less seriously and is, in many important ways, worse.

Worrying, too, to see the recent interference, reportedly by Trump staffers, with the Republican Party platform plank calling for the protection of Ukraine’s security against Russia, as well as Trump’s own comments praising Putin and Russia while questioning America’s continuing role as the linchpin member of NATO. Not to mention a campaign manager, Paul Manafort, whose work as a political consultant to former Ukrainian president and Putin pal Viktor Yanukovych is deeply suspect and an advisor, Carter Page, who has ties to Gazprom, the Russian, state-controlled energy giant. In July, Page spoke at Moscow’s New Economic School and said that the chance for better relations with Russia has been diminished because, “Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a couple of weeks ago, “Those associations might simply be unsavory if the candidate were an experienced political figure or surrounded by knowledgable advisors. Neither is the case… My own concern is mainly that this kind of mix of ignorance, grifters, disorganization is the kind of seed bed where influence operations and malign influence tend to thrive and take root. We’ve seen more than enough to know this knot of connections requires deep scrutiny, extreme vetting as Trump might say. This is no joke.”

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