The American people have been asking to see Donald Trump’s tax return for months. Making this document public is expected of every presidential candidate, and has been since the 1970s.
And then came Trump — a man so foul that by the time we’re done arguing about his latest insufferable tweet or off-color remark, we’re too exhausted to even discuss his policy proposals.
Something else we seem too busy to talk about is Trump’s missing-in-action tax return. During the campaign, Trump managed to leverage the public’s distrust of rival Hillary Clinton and her both real and imagined scandals to the point where we’re not holding Trump accountable for even the most basic political expectations.
This issue his only gotten more — not less — important since the general election.
Not a Cent
If we had absolutely no idea what might be contained within the pages of Trump’s tax return, it may not have become the major issue it has. But we do know what might be inside — and that’s the problem.
The last time the public was treated to a look at Donald J. Trump’s tax return, they revealed the man didn’t pay a single dime in income taxes. The year was 1981, and gambling regulatory bodies in New Jersey discovered that for at least a two-year period, the real estate tycoon reported a negative income in order to reduce his tax bill to zero.
That America’s tax code is a byzantine, corporate-friendly mess is not exactly news. The problem here is the flagrant hypocrisy exhibited by Mr. Trump. In every stump speech he gave prior to the general election, Trump excoriated his fellow corporatists for precisely the behavior he’s been exhibiting for several decades. Said Trump in a CBS interview last year: “They make a fortune. They pay no tax … It’s ridiculous, okay?”
Yes, Mr. Trump — it is ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous that otherwise intelligent human beings believe you’re worthy of our trust.
There’s a very good reason why some of our tax policy is written the way it is. There are provisions that can help us maximize our pensions and profit-sharing plans, navigate bankruptcy and plan how we’ll provide for the loved ones who survive us. But the tax code also lets the unscrupulous profit at the expense of everybody else. Trump might claim he was merely playing by the rules, but that doesn’t make what he’s been doing acceptable.
What’s Smart? Avoiding Taxes, Apparently
Maybe the most remarkable moment of this awful presidential election was a brief instant of existential clarity, when Trump stood before the nation and argued in favor of larger government. Remember the moment? It was the first debate between Trump and Clinton, and she was pressing him on his colorful interpretation of the tax code. We knew even then that Trump was almost certainly hiding the fact that he had paid zero — or close to zero — taxes for many years running.
His all-too-predictable answer? “[Tax avoidance] makes me smart.”
Yes, Trump actually said that aloud, during a real, live presidential debate. From outsourcing jobs to China and Mexico to refusing to deal with his unionized workers and failing to provide his tax returns, Donald Trump is accountable to absolutely nobody, it seems. The entire machinery of the legal system is useful only when it serves his purposes.
Either he’s too stupid to understand that something can be both legal and morally wrong at the same time, or he’s arguing more cogently than any Republican ever for a stronger central government. Either way, this sort of thinking reveals a man whose “business smarts” — such as they are, and what they are is most of the reason he got elected in the first place — begin and end with finding just how far he can push things before what he’s doing actually becomes illegal, rather than “merely” in bad taste.
A Matter of Trust
There’s a really simple reason why every presidential candidate has released his/her tax returns for the past 40 years. It’s a signal of humility, and a sign they can be trusted.
Why? Because a person who can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much. In other words, if a potential world leader exhibits good judgment when it comes to personal finances, he or she can likely be relied upon to act reasonably and responsibly with larger matters — like refugee crises and periods of unprecedented economic inequality.
Whatever is really in Trump’s tax returns, it’s too embarrassing to show the public — too embarrassing, even, for a man who’s made a career of sexually harassing and assaulting women, and then bragging about it on television. Too embarrassing for a man who apparently doesn’t have a single scruple in his ample body.
That’s a bad sign. And it’s why I still want to see Trump’s tax returns.