Past Present Podcast: Trump’s Tax Returns, Hiroshima, and High Heels


On this week’s Past Present podcast, Natalia, Neil, and Niki discuss presidential candidates and income taxes, Obama in Japan, and the history of high heels.

Trump’s Tax Returns

Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, but why do Americans care about seeing them? Neil argued that in a post-Watergate landscape, Americans want transparency from the presidential candidates and income tax returns provide one demonstration of this. Niki agreed but noted that Watergate had made Americans forget that Richard Nixon was already ensnared in a controversy over the IRS auditing him in 1973 for how little federal taxes he’d been paying. Natalia remarked that Nixon had called for transparency from politicians regarding finances in his 1952 Checkers speech. Niki commented that tax returns sometimes demonstrated that politicians had given little charitable donations, something that Neil remembered tripped Ted Cruz up when it was revealed he tithed less than one percent of his income.


President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima since its bombing seventy-one years ago. Natalia argued that American attitudes towards Japan were marked by a juxtaposition of racism and respect as seen in the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement and in President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb. Neil mentioned that anti-Japanese propaganda, including cartoons drawn by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), built American support for dropping the atomic bomb by dehumanizing the Japanese people. Natalia shared the 1945 Frank Sinatra film The House I Live In which used the idea of the Japanese as enemies to unite Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in an American identity. Niki remarked that the question to bomb Hiroshima remained an unsettled one for Americans as reflected in the 1994 controversy over the Smithsonian’s plans for an Enola Gay exhibit. Natalia recommended the popular children’s book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes which taught a generation of American children about the horrors of Hiroshima.

High Heels

Megan Garber’s recent Atlantic essay considered the high heel in long-form. Neil noted that high heels originated as a shoe for men, worn first by Persian equestrians and then taken up by the European aristocracy. 1940s pinup models brought high heels back after a brief absence, Niki observed, which were then mainstream by 1950s housewives. Natalia cited Kathy Peiss’s book, Hope in a Jar, showed a similar history of changing ideas about makeup in this period. Yet Natalia noted in the 1960s, some feminists saw high heels as a tool of oppression, such as the protestors at the 1968 Miss America pageant. But others, like Helen Gurley Brown in her book Sex and the Single Girl, championed high heels as a celebration of an empowered femininity. Natalia also mentioned Peggy Orenstein’s recent book, Girls & Sex, that found college girls feel confident when they wear items like high heels, but the confidence comes from feeling sexually validated.

What’s Making History

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