The New York Times’ bombshell report Sunday on nearly two decades’ worth of President Trump’s tax returns included so many revelations about his finances that the newspaper listed them out separately.
But in the hours after the publication of the Times report, which Trump decried as “totally fake news,” one much smaller figure drew the most attention: $750.
That was how much, according to the Times, Trump paid in annual federal income taxes during 2016, the year he ran for president, and 2017, his first year in office.
In 11 of the other 16 annual tax returns reviewed by the Times, he paid nothing, largely because his business empire reported losing more than it made. But it was the $750 tax payments — which would most closely match that of a minimum-wage worker, according to IRS data — that seemed even more insulting to many of the president’s critics.
Stories are often messy. They often don't boil down into big takeaways or ideas that can be memed or tweeted. This one has that kind of takeaway, and that's why it won't be going away any time soon.— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) September 28, 2020
People came barreling onto Twitter to detail a long list of expenses that cost them more: antidepressants; crutches; a pair of sneakers; a month’s rent in Lincoln, Neb.; two days’ rent in Trump Tower; health insurance; lupus medication; tickets to the Jonas Brothers’ 2019 tour; application fees for a U.S. visa; insulin; a RoboCop action figure; poppers; a weave; a 2-terabyte hard drive; and organic juice from Erewhon Market, a luxury health food supermarket chain in Los Angeles.
Lawyer George Conway said he had spent more money purchasing food and treats for Skipper and Bonnie, the corgis he owns with wife Kellyanne Conway, a former senior adviser to the president. Shanna Danielson, a former schoolteacher and Democratic state Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, said her out-of-pocket bill for classroom supplies came in higher.
Sam Ghali, an emergency medicine physician, wrote, “An ER visit costs more than $750.”
Hours after the Times report was published, so many people had chimed in to compare their returns to the president’s that Joe Biden’s campaign was selling buttons that read, “I paid more income taxes than Trump.”
The former vice president’s team also put out a 30-second video ad on Sunday evening comparing the $750 tax payment to the sums typically paid by three kinds of essential workers. Others noted that most undocumented immigrants, whom Trump has repeatedly bashed as a detriment to the economy, often pay more than he did.
Teachers paid $7,239— Team Joe (Text JOE to 30330) (@TeamJoe) September 28, 2020
Firefighters paid $5,283
Nurses paid $10,216
Donald Trump paid $750 pic.twitter.com/5YE1cbYsBN
“He contributed less to funding our communities than waitresses & undocumented immigrants,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who noted that she, too, had paid more in 2016 and 2017 while working as a bartender. “Donald Trump has never cared for our country more than he cares for himself. A walking scam.”
Joseph Bankman, a Stanford Law School professor who studies tax law, told The Washington Post that a comparable tax payment would most commonly be found among Americans who make between $15,000 and $20,000 a year.
“We’re talking about someone who works at a McDonald’s, and not someone who is managing it,” he said. “This is an hourly worker at a fast-food restaurant.”
If the tax return is filed by a married couple, like Trump and his wife, Melania, Bankman said, a comparable income in the broader population moves up, but only slightly. Another couple in the United States paying that much in federal taxes would most likely be making between $20,000 and $25,000 together.
In other words, Bankman said, it might be analogous to two minimum-wage workers who are married to each other.
In 2016, about half a million tax returns were filed by couples who make that much, Bankman said. Needless to say, essentially all of them have a financial history eons away from Trump, a self-professed billionaire who was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s business empire by the time he was 3.
“$750 is an awfully low figure relative to Trump’s consumption,” Bankman said. “Trump has lived a pretty good life for someone that’s paid that amount of taxes.”