The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
So the next presidential debate has a "town hall" format, and in case any of the participants are trying to formulate some good questions for the candidates, here are a few that would be awfully interesting. I know you'll notice that they're all questions directed at Donald Trump; that's because he has more explaining to do. Hillary Clinton has been a senator and a secretary of state, and—like her or hate her—we pretty much know where she stands on things. Trump, on the hand, has never held any office and has never really been involved in governmental affairs before, so I, for one, have many more questions about how he will act as president than I do in regard to Clinton. But I'm sure that readers might have some good ones for her to answer …
Question 1. Mr. Trump: You have asked the American people to make you their chief executive officer, notwithstanding your lack of governmental experience, on the grounds that you have been a successful businessman for more than 30 years and that you know how, in your own words, to "get things done." We now know, however—though you did not choose to reveal this information voluntarily yourself—that, in addition to the six times you have taken companies you controlled into bankruptcy, in 1995 you reported a loss of almost $1 billion in the real estate market. Why shouldn't the American people be concerned that your leadership will have similarly dismal economic results for the nation as a whole?
And two follow-up questions:
(a) You have suggested that your use of that staggering loss to offset your federal tax liability shows how "smart" you are. But what are we to make of the loss itself? Doesn't wiping that much value off the face of the earth in a single year—approximately equal to the annual gross domestic product of the country of Grenada—indicate something other than that you are smart?
(b) If you are elected president, will you repeal that section of the IRS code that allows real estate developers (and only real estate developers) to use their losses to offset taxes for 18 years (the three years prior to the year in which the loss was incurred, and for 15 years thereafter)?
Question 2. Mr. Trump: Have you retracted your comments from earlier this summer that a federal judge was incapable of ruling fairly in a case in which you are involved because of his Mexican heritage? Or do you still believe that he should disqualify himself from the case on the grounds of bias against you?
Question 3. Mr. Trump: You have called predictions of global climate change "a hoax." The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has published a report (co-authored with the U.K. Royal Society) documenting the current scientific consensus that the earth is warming and concluding that this is largely due to human activity, most notably to marked increases in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It looks as though 2016 is going to be the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous record (set just last year), which itself surpassed the previous record (set just the year before that). Are you reconsidering your position on the matter?
Question 4. Mr. Trump: You have stated on a number of occasions that Clinton "should be in jail" in connection with her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Do you believe it would be appropriate for a president to comment on the guilt or innocence of U.S. citizens, including those who have not been formally charged with wrongdoing?
And a follow-up: Vladimir Putin, for whom you have on occasion expressed your admiration, is widely known to have imprisoned his political opponents. Should the American people be concerned that you are indicating that you might behave similarly?
Question 5. Clinton has released her plan to counter ISIS terrorism. You have said that you have a plan but that you want to keep it "secret." How can the American people make a reasoned decision about a matter of such obvious urgency for the nation when you are unwilling to reveal anything about how you plan to counter the threat?
And a follow-up: Does your secret plan include the use of nuclear weapons? American ground troops overseas? Can you give us at least some hint of what you have in mind, insofar as American lives may well be at stake in the matter?