New Orleans I had an elementary school teacher whose constant rejoinder was that “the only thing certain in life was death and taxes.” At a tender age, neither absolute means much. What are taxes? When is death? As we age, we find out way too much about both of these inevitabilities. It turns out though my elementary school teacher was really half right and half wrong. No one has figured out how to repeal the natural law, although some of the techies are trying, so death still awaits us all. Taxes are another thing altogether. Turns out with enough wealth and privilege, accountants and lawyers, taxes, as President Trump would say, are for “losers” and “suckers,” those not “smart” enough to keep from paying their share to the government.
In a New York Times’ exclusive on Trump’s tax payments or lack of them it turns out after years of stonewalling as the first candidate for presidency in twenty years to not release his tax returns, we now all know why. For a slew of years, he paid nothing because of business losses. In 2016 and 2017, he paid the grand total of $750 in federal taxes. They lacked information on his 2018 and 2019 returns. They were able to obtain a mountain of other information. Trump may be a heck of a celebrity and, like it or not, a heck of a politician, but contrary to his reputation and his boasting, he’s not a great businessman at all. Some of his investments aren’t bad and his licensing business isn’t bad, but his golf courses and hotels are losing millions with about $300 million in loans, that he has personally guaranteed, coming due in the next couple of years.
He is also a master of gaming the system, although the IRS seems to think it’s not a game, but maybe something more like fraud or cheating. He claimed a questionable $75 million write off that they have been auditing and questioning skeptically for years. Those with long memories will recall that Trump’s rationale for not disclosing his taxes was supposedly the audit, although his own IRS Commissioner discounted that. The eventual tax bill, when this matter is resolved, is likely going to mean someone somehow writing a check for $100 million.
There’s more and it’s dicey. Payments made by foreign governments and others who do business or seek favor with the government who are boosting revenues at Mar de Largo and other Trump properties where the money ends up in his pocket create constant conflicts of interest. Sketchy dealings like claims for payments to Trump for consulting which exactly match payments given over to his daughter while she was a full-time Trump Organization employee or claims that his house is an investment property even while it is described as a family retreat and one of his kids describes it still as home.
It’s no comfort to find that Trump has put his business in as bad a shape as he has handled the country. Nor is it a reason for applause that like many of the rich, he works so assiduously to avoid paying taxes to support the military or social programs. In most cases, even when we disagree with their policies and whether someone is a good president, we at least believe they are a good citizen. Trump seems to be neither, laughing behind our backs on the way to the bank, as we confront death daily and pay taxes annually.