No one should need to see Donald Trump’s tax returns to know he’s a Businessman in the way Clark Stanley was a Businessman. We have known for some time that Trump initially made his money through a multigenerational tax avoidance scheme that at some points veered into outright fraud. We have known that many of his businesses—six at least—have crashed into bankruptcy, including multiple casinos(!), and he avoided personal bankruptcy by taking his failing business public—the stock ticker was his initials—and leaving investors with the bill. Throughout much of the 1990s, he was not paying taxes because of nearly $1 billion in business losses he incurred during that time, which canceled out any income earned. When he did get some real income again, it was primarily by playing the part of a Businessman on television—complete with a stage-set Boardroom that NBC had to build for the show—and selling the rights to others to use that contrived image.
Still, there’s something about learning from the New York Times that the president paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 because, just as in the 1990s, his businesses were hemorrhaging enough cash to offset any income that was coming in. This is a guy who could not manage a lemonade stand. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And you would think that could prove just as, if not more, damaging than the revelations that he doesn’t pay taxes. While the core of his appeal is to the Republican base’s fear and resentment of a changing world, and the notion that America was made by and for Certain People and everyone else should just be happy to be here, he needs the votes of people outside The Base if he wants to win. At least some people in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania took a punt on him based on the idea he was a Businessman who could Shake Things Up. This notion ought to be thoroughly dispelled now that we know he is simply a crooked deadbeat, though it should never have been convincing.
It’s all the rage these days for savvy observers to say Nothing Matters, or all rich people do this, or this is just the chattering classes talking amongst themselves. But that $750 figure sticks in the mind, and in the craw. It’s almost more outrageous than zero. Even when he was running for and occupying the office of President of the United States, all he saw fit to pay was 750 bucks. Barack Obama paid $1.8 million his first year in office. In 2017, when Trump once again paid $750, Bernie Sanders paid $343,000. Biden paid $3.7 million. Is this really a country where the majority of voters believe everyone who pays their taxes are just shmucks? Or did most people pay more than 750 bucks?
But again, the taxes matter less than the revelation—even if it’s not truly new—that President Business Deals is bad at business and, in fact, can hardly be considered a Businessman. He is a hologram of a real-estate mogul, an invention. His businesses, already poorly run propositions, are now getting battered by the pandemic economic downturn, which raises the prospect of whether the president’s war on lockdown restrictions was a personal financial issue. We already knew his foreign entanglements were a mess of conflicts-of-interest. The Times report makes clear that, as he has $300 million in personal liabilities that will come due over the next four years and there’s little indication he has any way to pay, he’s essentially squatting in the White House. His core supporters will never give it up, but if the American republic is to survive a little longer, all that’s necessary is for a few more people on the margins to opt out of this scam.
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