Hillary Clinton suggested a few reasons why Donald Trump is not releasing his tax returns during the first presidential debate, suggesting "maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is" and that he doesn't pay federal income taxes. "That makes me smart," Trump interjected. (The Washington Post)
Columnist

One of the things you’re supposed to do if you want to be the leader of a company — or a country — is to set a good example.

That’s why I was so appalled during the debate Monday night when Donald Trump boasted — or seemed to boast — about having paid no U.S. income taxes for the years in which his tax returns have become public record. “That makes me smart,” he said.

Actually, it doesn’t make him smart. It makes him foolish. And a phony. Here’s a guy wearing an American flag in his lapel, talking about how our country is heavily in debt and needs money badly, and then telling us that he’s smart for not supporting the place in which we all live.

I don’t know about you, but I found it infuriating.

If Trump were truly smart — and wasn’t, as I wrote in July, someone who lacks impulse control — he’d boast about paying no taxes, then say that he would close the loophole or loopholes that allowed him do that.

With his tax proposals, Donald Trump is showing that he knows how to take care of himself at the expense of the rest of us. And that’s the bottom line. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

I suspect, as some tax mavens do, that Trump pays little or no U.S. income tax because of Section 469 of the tax code. That section carves out a special tax break for people who spend at least half their working time developing or managing real estate, allowing them to use tax losses generated by real estate to offset other income. Something regular people aren’t allowed to do.

If Trump were truly smart — and wanted to lead by example, which is the very best way to lead — he would disclose his tax returns, warts and all, and propose to close the Section 469 loophole and any others that he or his family might be using. That would make him credible, and a leader.

After all, he claims to be worth $10 billion — though I don’t remotely believe it, given his flights of fantasy finance — so paying even a lot of income tax wouldn’t kill him.

But instead of leading, Trump is proposing to cut rates for high-income people, presumably including himself; to eliminate the “carried interest” loophole that gives a big tax break to hedge fund and private-equity managers, but that I doubt benefits him; and to eliminate the estate tax, which Hillary Clinton claimed would save Trump’s family $4 billion. I don’t believe that number for a minute — it assumes that Trump is worth $10 billion — but he didn’t challenge it.

I emailed Trump’s campaign Tuesday asking about these things, and whether anything in Trump’s tax proposals would cost him or his family money. I got no response.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m no fan of the Clintons’ behavior, either.

I’m as offended by Hillary and Bill Clinton’s buck-raking practices as I am by Trump’s boast about not having paid income tax. The Clintons have knocked down tens of millions in fees and other income since Bill Clinton left office by exploiting the aura of his presidency. It’s repellant.

But despite their greed and money-grubbing cluelessness — did Hillary Clinton really need the $675,000 of Wall Street speech fees that she gobbled down during the brief interval between leaving the State Department and beginning her presidential run? — the Clintons are showing that they’re smart when it comes to proposing tax policy.

How so? Because the tax increases that Hillary Clinton is proposing on high-income people would cost her family money. So would the changes that she’s proposing in the estate tax.

So when it comes to taxes, Clinton is showing that she knows how to sacrifice and lead by example. Trump is showing that he knows how to take care of himself at the expense of the rest of us. And that’s the bottom line.