Someone gave the New York Times “more than two decades” of Trump’s “tax return data,” and they published it. Had Trump revealed his returns, as has become the norm for presidential candidates since 1974, this would be old news. But since Trump refused to do so, and since it’s Trump, the billionaire stable genius super businessman dealmaker, it’s . . . something.
What does the tax data mean? He didn’t pay any taxes for 10 of 15 years, and paid $750 in the year he was elected. Does that make him a tax genius or a lying business failure? Beats me. I’m no tax expert, and tax returns bore me to tears. It wouldn’t be surprising that he was able to use the tax regs to his advantage by milking every deduction and passive loss carryforward and using them to his advantage. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was drowning in debt. I’ve known quite a few people who lived the life of the wealthy until some intervening good fortune saved them from the scheme crashing down on them. Or the scheme crashed down on them.
What all this means will end up the domain of people far more knowledgeable about such matters than I. And more trustworthy than the New York Times, which has sadly proven itself unable to resist presuming whatever “truth” best serves its perspective.
To the extent that this is an issue now, with the election looming, Trump has no one to blame but himself. Had he released his tax returns before his first election, this wouldn’t matter. By refusing to comply with the norm, he made it the nefarious forbidden fruit concealing secrets so awful they had to be concealed. I’ve long suspected that the only “secret” buried in his tax returns was that he wasn’t all that rich, and wasn’t a very good business person. There wasn’t anything particularly nefarious going on, but just something that Trump would find personally humiliating. That’s the worst thing a narcissist can endure, to be outed as a fraud.
But was it wrong for some thief in the night to reveal this personal data to the Times? Was it wrong, albeit not illegal, for the Times to publish it? Dean Basquet, the Executive Editor, explains.
We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances. Every president since the mid-1970s has made his tax information public. The tradition ensures that an official with the power to shake markets and change policy does not seek to benefit financially from his actions.
As a general statement, this is fine. As a specific statement, this falls short. The Times hasn’t disclosed the documents in its possession, because, as Basquet explains:
We are not making the records themselves public because we do not want to jeopardize our sources, who have taken enormous personal risks to help inform the public.
Totally understandable from the snitch’s perspective, but that means we’re constrained to accept the Times’ characterization of what the docs say, and what it means. You can protect your source or you can reveal the documents. Can you do both? Maybe. If you are so trustworthy that no one would doubt either your word or your “truth” about what it means. Too bad the Times gave that away. The 1619 Project comes to mind as a recent example.
But then, bear in mind that it wasn’t the Times, but Trump, who made this such a huge mystery.
Mr. Trump, one of the wealthiest presidents in the nation’s history, has broken with that practice. As a candidate and as president, Mr. Trump has said he wanted to make his tax returns public, but he has never done so. In fact, he has fought relentlessly to hide them from public view and has falsely asserted that he could not release them because he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. More recently, Mr. Trump and the Justice Department have fought subpoenas from congressional and New York State investigators seeking his taxes and other financial records.
The harder one fights to conceal, the greater the interest in revelation. Granted, no one with any familiarity with someone like Trump expected him to use a 1040-EZ. They were certainly rife with complexities, and no small amount of envelope pushing on the soft numbers of depreciation, exemptions, deductions and, well, all those cool tax words that accountants lose sleep over. But of course Trump was going to game the system as hard as he could. Avoiding the payment of taxes is as American as apple pie, although most of us can’t come close to zero taxes due, much as we want to.
So what does it tell us about how Trump has, and could, and will, use his office for his gain? It’s no mystery that Trump has two, and only two, motivations, self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Of course he was going to get what he could out of being president as possible. For his supporters, this isn’t the question, as they were happy to turn a blind eye to Trump’s enriching himself in the usual course of “honest graft,” as long as they got what they wanted out of him as well. Unless, perhaps, Trump went too far. Who would tell us if this was so?
The reporters who examined these records have been covering the president’s finances and taxes for almost four years. Their work on this and other projects was guided by Paul Fishleder, a senior investigative editor, and Matthew Purdy, a deputy managing editor who oversees investigations and special projects at The Times.
Does this mean anything? Are these tax experts? Are they experts in real estate or hotel financing? Are they experts in anything? They’re reporters and editors for the New York Times, which has demonstrated its dislike of Trump more than once. Now there’s one more thing to hate about Trump. Will this change everything or anything?