Sunday, September 27, 2020

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried his best to fend off the inevitable catastrophe of his tax returns finally seeing the light of day.

Late this afternoon, the New York Times published a 30,000-word article that can be summarized this way: the paper has acquired Trump's tax returns for the last 18 years, and in most of them, he paid virtually no income taxes. 

Trump has tried desperately to prevent this information from coming out—although every other presidential candidate since Richard Nixon has released them—and it's now clear why. He paid either zero dollars in income taxes, or a token $750 amount (apparently so that he could say he was paying taxes at all), in 13 of the last 18 years.

The story (which the NYT summarizes in a separate article) makes the following revelations.

  • Trump is personally in debt to the tune of $421 million, and those loans are coming due during what he hopes will be his next term in office. This means that the people holding those notes—in many cases, foreign interests—have and have always had enormous direct leverage over Trump.
  • His business empire was in shambles for much of that time. Ironically, the only reliable source of income was his personal "brand"—which centered on the idea that he was a savvy and successful businessman.

  • Trump's tax avoidance was astonishing even by the standards of the 0.001%—the group his supposed net worth puts him in. He paid $400 million less in taxes than the average member of that group.

  • Among the "business expenses" used to zero out his tax bill were $70,000 in haircuts.
  • He is fighting with the IRS—which reports to him—over an apparently invalid $72.9 million refund.
  • The famous NYC Trump Tower, one of his few profitable real estate holdings, has a mortgage bill of over $100 million coming due in 2022, and he has made no payments on it.

Trump held a press conference today, supposedly to continue his remarks on the Supreme Court nomination he made yesterday, and gave this response when asked about it:

Q: [T]here’s a New York Times story that came out about an hour ago that says that, when you came to the White House, you were paying about $750 a year in federal income tax.

They are not releasing what — they’re not publishing the tax returns. They’re not showing that out there. They’re saying — to protect their sources. In your tax returns, sir, does that sound right, that you were paying a couple hundred dollars a year in federal income taxes?

TRUMP: No. No. It’s fake news. It’s totally fake news. Made up. Fake. We went through the same stories. You could have asked me the same questions four years ago. I had to litigate this and talk about it. Totally fake news. No.

Actually, I paid tax, but — and you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns — it’s under audit. They’ve been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well. They treat me like the Tea Party — like they treated the Tea Party. And they don’t treat me well. They treat me very badly.

You have people in the IRS — they’re very — they treat me very, very badly. But they’re under audit. And when they’re not, I would be proud to show you. But that’s just fake news. The New York Times tried it — the same thing. They want to create a little bit of a story, a little bit of — they’re doing anything they can.

Not only — that’s the least of it. I mean, the stories that I read are so fake. They’re so phony.

Q: Did they tell you this was going to come out today?

TRUMP: No, I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about it. I think somebody said they were going to do a negative — they always do — they only do negative stories.

It's a minor point, but Trump is definitely lying about knowing that the story was coming out. In fact, the press conference was clearly scheduled just so that Trump would be able to give an instant reaction. The White House was contacted for comment immediately before the story broke, and the press conference was only announced at 1:39 P.M. today, while Trump was still at the golf course.

The fact that Trump is under audit—as every president is, by law—has no bearing on his years-long attempts to keep the returns secret. He was always free to release them.

The larger problem for Trump, though, is that the NYT story cannot be "fake news," unless they literally manufactured 18 years of fictitious tax returns—which Trump could easily prove even without releasing his own copies.

So what?

  • Voters may think that someone who constantly brags about his wealth should pay more in taxes than a part-time worker earning minimum wage.
  • Nobody with financial problems this complicated has the time or energy to be president.
  • It's bad if the president keeps secret all the different people who can threaten him with financial ruin.
  • It's wrong to lie to the American people, even if the truth is humiliating.