In his forced (and, he hopes, temporary) retirement, defeated former president Donald Trump has come up with a new undertaking. He’s undertaking.
Photos published by the New York Post on Sunday show a lone grave at the edge of a field with some yellowed grass around it, a clump of white flowers on the freshly turned earth and a flat stone marker with a less-than-effusive epitaph: “IVANA TRUMP, February 20, 1949 - July 14, 2022.” She died last month of an apparent fall.
The former president has shown little interest in conventional post-presidency pursuits, such as building a presidential library; he’s not much for reading, and he’s trying to hide his presidential papers, not display them. But why would he bury himself in, of all things, the interment trade?
Simple: He has seemingly turned his late ex-wife (and his oldest kids have turned their late mother) into a tax dodge. Dartmouth professor Brooke Harrington, a specialist in tax optimization, checked the New Jersey tax code and reported that operating a cemetery at the Trump National offers “a trifecta of tax avoidance. Property, income & sales tax, all eliminated.” She tweeted that it “looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish.”
This digs up an old issue for Trump. David A. Fahrenthold reported for The Post in 2017 that local officials had approved two burial grounds at Trump’s New Jersey club: the 10-plot one near the first hole where Ivana now rests and a 284-plot parcel for anybody who wants to buy “eternal membership in Trump’s club.” The proposals had gone through various iterations — up to 1,000 graves for the public one, and, for the private one (which a Trump representative said would entomb “only the good Trumps,” including Trump himself), stone obelisks 19 feet high, along with a combined mausoleum and chapel that would double as a wedding venue.
It wasn’t clear then how much a cemetery tax break on part of the property would help Trump because he had already avoided taxes by getting local authorities to declare the larger, wooded site a farm — on grounds that some trees there were turned into mulch.
But in his post-presidency, Trump has exhumed all manner of grift techniques. The Post reports that he used the presidential seal, apparently illegally, during last week’s Saudi-sponsored golf tournament at the Bedminster course. Trump has also milked his supporters for $121 million in campaign cash but, Republican operative Karl Rove complains, has not been using much of it to help GOP candidates.
Trump never loved cemeteries. As president, he famously skipped a visit to a U.S. military cemetery in France when it was raining (he blamed the Secret Service), then skipped a Veterans Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery because he was “busy.” But now there’s money to be made (or, at least, taxes not to be paid) in the burial business.
So, while the Trump family burial plot is waiting for other prospective occupants to qualify for residency (the former president has wavered on his initial commitment to make Bedminster — his “favorite property” — his final resting place), perhaps Trump can come up with some mixed-use schemes for the site.
Its proximity to the first tee makes it an obvious spot for a practice green for putting and chipping. Or how about a cemetery-themed mini-golf course, in which paying customers putt their way over, around and through garish headstones and monuments?
Alternatively, the high-vacancy Trump cemetery could be used as a remembrance for those who are technically living but have had their careers and reputations buried by Trump. Michael Cohen? Michael Flynn? Mike Pence? House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has been so undone by his desperate fealty to Trump that he now says he has been talking late at night to paintings hanging in his office.
Institutions buried by Trump could also get space in this Trump National Memorial Park. The FBI. The judiciary. The Republican Party. Free elections. Equal justice. The truth. And, in the center with an eternal flame, would be a simple stone marker as spare and unsentimental as Ivana’s:
“AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, July 4, 1776 - January 6, 2021”