Kathy Sheridan: It’s okay to be shocked about Trump’s taxes

This is a president in desperate need of vast injections of cash to save his bacon

Donald Trump. Photograph: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Donald Trump. Photograph: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

 

Remember back in 2016 when Hillary Clinton needled Donald Trump into the smirking riposte that tax avoidance merely meant he was “smart”?

And Trump fanboys accused Clinton of being the corporate shill?

She was right about nearly everything. He is a truly terrible businessman. It was his ability to impersonate a successful one on an insanely lucrative reality show that made the brand and his fortune.

He faked it all.

While ordinary Americans were conscientiously calculating taxes owed, Trump was claiming tax relief for $75,000 worth of hairdos

We are allowed to be shocked. The difference now is that we have evidence and it’s Trump’s very own noir version of his business affairs over 20 years as spun to the US Internal Revenue Service. The forensic accounting of those 20 years will be riveting.

The New York Times has done the world the enormous favour of not just sourcing the documents but explaining them in ways understandable to even the most ardent MAGA fans. Their champion – the one trumpeted by NBC as a world-class businessman, who vowed to drain the swamp and rebuild their version of the US – lived like a medieval king while paying less federal income tax than a teacher.

Before the White House elevation, he used “Trump Force One” to shuttle between Trump Tower, the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and the magnificent 200-acre Seven Springs estate in Westchester among others.

Seven Springs is a fine example of a Trump IRS filing versus the Trumpworld version. For the IRS, the estate is claimed as a “property investment”; in Trumpworld, it’s a family “retreat” (the official Trump Organisation website) and “really our [family] compound” (Eric Trump to Forbes magazine).

In 2011 Trump found spare time to work with Fox News towards delegitimising the sitting president

While ordinary Americans were conscientiously calculating taxes owed, Trump was claiming tax relief for $75,000 worth of hairdos. The NYT’s reporting alludes to apparently small details that may prove sticky for him. A big win was the $79 million tax rebate he received when he renounced his stake in the failed Atlantic City casinos and filed an associated billion dollar loss. Quick aside: remember all the tweeted Trumpy taunts at the “failing” New York Times?

His problem apparently is that to benefit from “renouncing” a stake, for taxation purposes you must get absolutely nothing in return. Trump got something, a 5 per cent stake in a new casino company. An IRS audit begun about 10 years ago continues to this day for some reason.

In 2011 Trump found spare time to work with Fox News towards delegitimising the sitting president. “[Obama] doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate – maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim; I don’t know.”

“I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate,” he suggested then, nearly five years before he became a real White House contender. This malevolent Wizard of Oz showed us exactly who he was long ago. Let no one claim they mistook him for a man who would make the world a better place. No part of the world, no convention, no language, no civilised norm, no woman, race or creed has been left untainted by him.

A president with a screamingly urgent financial need to remain in power must expect to have his motives questioned

Look at his support base – not the obvious MAGA-hat wearers but the tight-lipped upper middle classes hanging out for their tax cuts, deregulation and supreme court deathwatches, hand in glove wth the obscenely wealthy, shadowy families who pull Republican strings, not to mention the strongmen around the world in places such as India, Turkey and the Philippines from which he has taken millions in licensing revenue and lavished priceless presidential PR in return.

The true value of the four-year NYT investigation is that the enormous risks posed by this man are now virtually carved on Mount Rushmore. Five years ago he boasted of not using lobbyists or donors in his campaign because he was “really rich”. By March this year, he had already accepted donations from 80 billionaires and their spouses. Hundreds of millions of debt are up soon for repayment, some of it personal, and the NYT concludes that he has less than $1 million dollars remaining in his securities portfolio.

This is a president in desperate need of vast injections of cash to save his bacon. This is a president whose cash flow was drying up, then crippled by the global lockdown on his hospitality and recreational investments, and whose head-melting efforts to keep the economy open – the suggested bleach injections, the support for the anti-lockdown armed mobs, the brutish attempts to silence his own experts – have raised many eyebrows. A president with a screamingly urgent financial need to remain in power must expect to have his motives questioned.

We forget why politicians who went bankrupt or led “secret” lives were once deemed a threat to the security of the state – they could be bought, went the theory – or why societies deem it wise to pay their politicians reasonably well. Any official with the power to change policy or shake the markets must expect closer scrutiny. We know that to our cost.

One of the most dispiriting responses to the NYT’s revelations has come from other western journalists. While admiring the scoop, they lamented that it would change nothing, wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to Trump’s or any populist base. Doubtless the same thought has run through every functioning brain. It may change some of the undecideds or it may change nothing. The point is to keep on trying – and to remember the extraordinarily brave souls who risked everything to hand over that data. News matters.

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