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Trump’s Taxes

I feel like the NYT is the dog who caught the car here. How does that bumper taste now that you've uncovered Trump's big secret that was no secret at all?

The New York Times published, 34 days before Election Day, the longest-awaited “bombshell” dealing with President Trump: A 20-year analysis of his tax returns, which the newspaper had obtained from unnamed sources.

The piece was the first in a planned series of releases over the next, 33 days seems a nice round number, exposing many things most people already knew about Trump or at least suspected, and a few things by accident that were not said.

Takeaways:

  • Trump did everything he could to avoid paying any income tax at all, paying $750 in 2016 and nothing for 10 of the previous 15 years. The paper was mostly silent as to what Trump paid in the other years besides 2016, noting that from 2005 to 2007, he paid a total of $70.1 million.
  • Trump’s returns show massive losses and deductions. The NYT cited “more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during ‘The Apprentice.'” While I’m no expert on the cost of New York hairdressers, especially for media celebrities, I’m sure there’s plenty of data for the IRS and others to compare this to.
  • Trump is not worth anywhere near the billions he claims. He owns properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but owes loans, some at usurious interest rates, for at least $500 million. The president may be worth “only” somewhere in the $150-$300 million range.

That’s it. Trump owes a lot of money, and takes every possible deduction and strategy to avoid paying income taxes. This is supposed to be the “bombshell.” If you’re not already outraged over everything else Trump has done, I doubt this is going to push you over the line.

What’s specifically said, but generally ignored:

  • The NYT obtained transcripts of these tax returns, the 1040, from 1985 to 1994, in 2019. This “vast new trove of information” according to the newspaper, “completed the recurring pattern of ascent and decline that has defined the president’s career.”
  • There are no new revelations about hush payments, such as to Stormy Daniels.
  • There is no hard data supporting Trump’s net worth claims, though there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence based on cash flow.
  • There is nothing indicating illegal activity, or undisclosed Russian connections, or even improper tax claims, just “the wizardry, behind the self-made billionaire image.”

In other words: the NYT held this information and worked it for over a year, painstakingly researching every jot and tittle, and could not come up with a single instance of Trump cheating on his taxes. In fact, the headline is “Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance.”

My question here is simple: So what?

That’s the real estate biz, isn’t it? Chronic losses and avoiding taxes is the game every rich person plays. And if nothing else, Trump is–and lives like–a rich person. I think, the worst possible nightmare for Trump would be being forced to live like a poor person, unable to write a check for whatever he wanted, unable to obtain a bank loan, forced to live without the fame. But that’s not going to happen.

It can’t happen because ex-presidents are worth a lot simply by dint of the fact that they’re ex-presidents. Barack Obama is worth somewhere north of $40 million. Speeches, book deals, and other opportunities abound for the Obamas. The Clintons are reportedly worth somewhere around $75 million, unless you count the foundation money they never repaid. George W. Bush was a multi-millionaire in oil and sports before he gained the White House, and was worth around $40 million at his peak.

So Trump may owe hundreds of millions, but it’s reasonable to say that he will have the assets and cash flow to repay that (if he repays the loans at all) once he leaves office. Even if he doesn’t, there’s plenty of money in Congress to help him out.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, of Georgia, despite having Trump endorse her Republican rival Rep. Doug Collins, is quite rich, worth over $500 million. Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Buzzfeed-reporter wrestling candidate for governor of Montana (he’s leading Democrat Mike Clooney by a comfortable margin) is worth over $135 million–nearly as much as Trump himself. The third richest member of Congress is Speaker Nancy Pelosi, weighing in at $120 million.

There’s little doubt Trump will be bankable well into the future, whether he wins or loses in November. So why would the NYT make like Trump’s business future is some house of cards, when it’s clearly not the case?

Trump’s product is his own celebrity. The golf courses, Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower, the jet, the yacht–these things are simply emblems, symbols, of his persona. They are necessary props to maintain his public image. Whether he’s in the Oval Office or not, it’s not the presidency that defines Trump, it’s his own self-made image.

Nothing Trump has done with his tax returns is illegal. It’s not even uncommon. Billionaires don’t like to pay taxes, just like you and I don’t like to pay taxes. While we use TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer, and our local CPA to achieve our tax reduction goals, people like Trump (and Loeffler, Gianforte, Pelosi, Obama, Bush, Bill Gates, etc.) pay big accounting firms and lawyers a lot of money to avoid paying taxes.

All of this is totally legal, and all of it is part of the tax laws passed by Congress–which is loaded with many millionaires. Maybe instead of dropping election “bombshells” after early voting has started, the NYT can focus on why Congress continually passes laws that allow people like Trump (and themselves) to pay $750 in taxes.

I feel like the NYT is the dog who caught the car here. How does that bumper taste now that you’ve uncovered Trump’s big secret that was no secret at all? He inflates his net worth because it’s part of his public persona (“The Apprentice”). He pays as little tax as possible by claiming enormous losses, taking advantage of tax deferrals, and writing off every allowable penny. And?

Where’s the illegal juice, the malfeasance, the crime?

It’s not there.

Nothing the NYT has published is going to change minds, at least not what I’m seeing so far. In fact, the timing and tone of the piece will only make Trump supporters more convinced that this is a planned political hit job that will make the rounds of the news shows, the talk shows, and the book deals so rampant in the Trump era.

We’ve now seen (as much as we’re going to see) Trump’s taxes. And it’s just as boring a snore-fest as we guessed it would be.

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