That said, Trump’s tax returns don’t expose anything shockingly new about his character. We already knew he was a bounder surrounded by grifters. What’s truly shocking about the returns is what is legal, not what is illegal. The returns are another glimpse at how our corrupt political system is rigged by the wealthy and gamed by the greedy.
Yes, Trump’s tax-dodging may include illegal or fraudulent claims. The IRS is auditing a dubious $72.9 million tax refund he claimed in 2010, which erased years of tax payments. He apparently writes off his 200-acre family estate in Bedford, N.Y., as an investment property, even though it serves as a family home. He also writes off mysterious consulting fees, including some paid to his daughter Ivanka when she was a full-time employee of his companies.
But even without those questionable maneuvers, the loopholes and tax dodges that are built into the tax code allow Trump to pay less in taxes than a schoolteacher or nurse. His deductions include more than $70,000 in hair-related expenses from his time on “The Apprentice,” hundreds of thousands of dollars for linens and landscaping at Mar-a-Lago and millions of dollars in business losses. And this is the core of Trump’s betrayal of the voters who put him in office in the hope that, even though he was a con man, he would be their con man. In the event, they turned out to be the targets, not the beneficiaries.
The major accomplishment of Trump’s three years — a $2 trillion tax cut — lavished its benefits on the rich and the corporations, with more loopholes and exemptions. (Trump claimed at the time, “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me.” Since he was paying almost nothing in taxes anyway, this was just another lie.) Households saw none of the $4,000 raise Republicans promised. At the same time, Trump and his GOP minions have blocked any reforms to limit the force of big money in politics, ensuring that the corruption would continue. The president packed his administration with corporate lobbyists and lawyers who reveled in a predator’s ball. Trump set the example, propping up properties that were losing money — such as Mar-a-Lago and his hotel in Washington — by billing the government for his visits (including charging the Secret Service as much as $650 a night) and pocketing payments from foreign governments and interests seeking to please him. Once more, the rich and the entrenched interests have enjoyed open season to rig the system to benefit themselves.
This is par for Trump’s course. His trade policy has failed to close the trade deficit with China, failed to bring good jobs back to the United States and failed to stop companies like General Motors from shutting down factories here. His farm subsidies went to the biggest corporate agribusinesses while small farmers got a pittance. The stimulus bill gave a multibillion-dollar tax cut to real estate investors. His Treasury Department lavished pandemic subsidies on GOP donors’ corporations while small businesses struggled. He continues to try to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act with nothing concrete to replace it with.
In short, fact-checkers have recorded thousands of Trump’s lies, but his biggest lie is saying he’s on the side of the working people who helped put him in office.
The tax returns might help explain why Trump is so desperate to stay in office that he’s seeking to discredit the balloting so he can get “my judges” on the Supreme Court to select the president rather than the voters. According to the Times, Trump has more than $420 million in loans that he has personally guaranteed, most of which will come due in the next four years. Few creditors would foreclose on a sitting president even if that were legal. Staying in office, one way or another, will allow the self-proclaimed “master of debt” to keep the hounds from the door a few more years, even as his misrule drives the country into the bankruptcy that has been the fate of many of his ventures.