Donald Trump has spent a lifetime believing the law does not apply to him, and since becoming president he has acted this way in secret and loudly proclaimed it in public. In two decisions issued yesterday concerning his tax returns, the US Supreme Court rejected the president's assertion that he is immune from the law's requirements - in particular, he couldn't block subpoenas from both Congress and grand juries.
"In our judicial system, 'the public has a right to every man's evidence,'" wrote Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. "Since the earliest days of the Republic, 'every man' has included the president of the United States."
But in one way, the outcome is a victory for the president. He may not have got the court to declare him above the law, but he succeeded in drawing out the process long enough to ensure that his tax returns will remain hidden until after November's election.
So although the court affirmed some important principles of democracy and accountability, at least between now and the election we will not be adding more financial misdeeds to the pile of repugnant Trump scandals that are already in public view.
That does not mean, however, that we should stop our pursuit of those documents. Even if Trump loses, we still need to see them.
On these two cases, the court managed to land in a clever place: rejecting Trump's claims of kingly sovereignty, while avoiding anything that would damage him too directly in the election. In both cases, the documents sought were from outside entities - Trump's banks and accounting firm - but Trump argued that these mustn't be turned over, because as president he is immune not only to prosecution but even to investigation, either criminal or by Congress.
In the first, Trump v Vance, the court dismissed this claim as it pertains to criminal investigation. As Roberts wrote, "no citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding".
So the financial records sought by the Manhattan district attorney must be turned over. However, since they are being given to a grand jury, they'll be kept secret for the foreseeable future.
In the second case, Trump v Mazars, the court didn't agree with Trump's claims that Congress has no right to subpoena his financial records, but it punted the case back down to lower courts for further consideration of the separation of powers issues at play.
Though the president immediately whined like an angry toddler when the decisions came down, he's safe for the moment. But we can't forget that literally everyone - especially the president himself - operates on the assumption that if his tax returns became public it would be a political catastrophe for him.
No one knows precisely what kind of misdeeds they would reveal, but we all know it's very bad. If all they showed was that he is a shrewd businessman who operates ethically and is worth many billions of dollars, he would have mailed every American household a copy by now.
We already have plenty of evidence of his financial misdeeds. The 'New York Times' reported that in the 1980s and 1990s the Trump family executed a multi-year conspiracy that defrauded the federal government of half a billion dollars in tax revenue.
ProPublica reported that the president routinely inflated the value of his properties when seeking loans, then deflated the value to tax authorities - potentially committing tax and bank fraud.
We also know that Trump ran scams that stole people's life savings, stiffed small firms, created a fraudulent "foundation" and employed undocumented workers. The idea that there isn't anything in his tax returns showing misconduct or even outright crimes is so preposterous that no one even pretends to believe it.
Even if the returns do become public one day, unravelling them will take time. Trump employs a small army of accountants and lawyers whose job it is to conceal, obfuscate and obscure. The Trump Organisation is an amalgamation of approximately 500 separate entities, a kind of financial rat king. Each one is its own mystery that must be investigated in order to determine what it does, what nefarious characters might be involved and where the money comes from.
But we must conduct that investigation even if Trump loses in November. It will be absolutely vital for the public, and for history, to understand just how corrupt the man we gave the most powerful office in the world truly was.
The full story of Trump's finances may reveal not only what kind of safeguards we want to install for future presidents (a requirement that they release their tax returns is the bare minimum), but also the ways in which the rich avoid paying taxes and manipulate the financial system to their advantage.
And if a former president turns out to be a money launderer or a tax cheat or a criminal of some other sort, we need to know. Not only so he can be prosecuted for whatever crimes are still within the statute of limitations, but so the record of this appalling era is complete.
That will be one of the dangers we will have to guard against in the future. Some will try to convince us that Trump wasn't so bad, or that the problem was just his tweets, or that he was a wacky showman but not a malignant cancer on our democracy.
The Supreme Court has given Trump a reprieve. But it's up to all of us to make sure that he does not escape the judgment he deserves.