Once in a while, Donald Trump accidentally stumbles upon the truth. One such example is when he recently (and rightly) claimed that there’s no actual law that compels Presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
While that might be the case, it’s generally encouraged that they do so. History and precedent have seen to it that most of our recent serious contenders have made the details of their earnings public.
It follows, then, that any candidate who fails to do so will be treated with skepticism, if not outright mistrust. Hillary Clinton, for her part, is certain that Trump’s failure to disclose is a sure sign he’s hiding something.
Now, let’s look at Presidential tax returns in a different light. Since America seems to outdo the rest of the developed world when it comes to paying millionaires to play catch (sports) or pretend to be somebody else (acting), what would Clinton’s and Trump’s earnings look like stacked against the salaries of well-paid actors in a political drama? Say — “House of Cards”?
Hillary Clinton’s Tax Returns vs. Robin Wright’s “HoC” Salary
Has there ever been a more aristocratic candidate? I don’t think there’s an American family that better embodies what it is to belong to the top 1%. The eight years’ worth of tax returns released by the Clinton 2.0 Administration reveals that the former first lady and her husband raked in about $139 million over eight years, for an average of $17.4 million per year.
There’s nothing wrong with earning a living, surely, but things begin to look a little strange when you realize that the lion’s share of the Clinton family’s “charitable giving” — which the family is only too happy to call our attention to — went to their own charities. You know, the sort of charities that pay for the Clinton’s luxurious travel and dining expenses as well as the family’s grotesquely lavish fundraisers alongside the likes of George Clooney.
I’m not saying it’s money laundering, but it definitely could be money laundering. Either way, one has to wonder if a Presidential candidate who’s lived so much of her life comfortably above the fray (and probably doesn’t even remember how to drive her own car) could really speak for the average working Americans. This is one very good reason why it’s a must to insist candidates release their earnings and tax records. Who really speaks for us plebs?
In comparison, the earnings of high-profile actor Robin Wright, who portrays first lady Claire Underwood on “House of Cards,” looks downright lean. Wright received $5.5 million for her work on the show in 2015, and she successfully used her fame to negotiate for pay equity with her male co-star, Kevin Spacey.
For context, 26 episodes of “House of Cards” cost Netflix $100 million, meaning the Clinton’s earnings over the last eight years could have paid for a little more than 36 episodes of this modern classic.
And Robin Wright’s salary? It’s so small it could be a line item deduction on Hillary’s tax return. The former first lady has become accustomed to being paid more for just one highly classified Goldman Sachs speech than her opponent, Bernie Sanders, makes in an entire year.
Donald Trump’s Tax Returns (or Lack Thereof)
There’s quite a bit less to say about Trump’s tax returns because, well, there aren’t any. He has declined to release them, opining that it’s “none of our business” — which comes after he practically built his entire campaign around the fact that he’s filthy rich.
Is he, though? Just about everybody with the means to investigate the Trump Empire seems to have come to the conclusion that he’s not nearly as rich as he claims to be — a tough break for the political party that worships the golden calf by fetishizing grotesque wealth.
What we do know is that Kevin Spacey’s earnings for “House of Cards” in 2014 was $6.5 million. Spacey and Wright already belong to the upper crust of American society, and they possess more wealth than most of us will realize in an entire lifetime.
However, in comparison to Clinton and Trump — two would-be public servants — they practically have one foot in the poor house. At a time when income inequality is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression, I suspect few people could argue that the services rendered by either Mr. Spacey or Mr. Trump quite justifies their high price tags.
Even if Trump is right about his net worth being something on the order of $10 billion, it’s clear that anybody with an imagination could dream up dozens of better uses for that money. Social Security payouts provide, on average, $1,342 per month for America’s 40 million retired recipients. Trump’s purported net worth could sustain more than 620,000 retirees for an entire year (calculations mine).
Elementary school teachers receive an average salary of $44,838 per year, which means we could also trade in Trump and his vitriol for more than 223,000 new teachers (calculations mine).
If there’s anything to learn from all this, it’s that this country should have a serious conversation about its priorities. When both our actors and our public servants earn more for one episode, or for one speech, than most of us will make in several decades, it becomes pretty clear that the dreaded “distribution of wealth” has already happened — but in the wrong direction.
I’m not saying Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey are overpaid. “House of Cards” does just as good a job at calling attention to our broken political system as Trump or Sanders. And I don’t begrudge Trump his wealth. It stands to reason, though, that if you want to “Make America Great Again,” you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. A rising tide lifts all ships. Trouble is, most of us are just splashing around in the shallow end.
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