In their first debate, Hillary Clinton noted that although Donald Trump has refused to reveal his federal tax returns, he did turn over a few years worth of returns to state officials as part of a casino license application “and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.” On the split TV screen, Trump leaned toward his microphone and interjected, “That makes me smart.”
No, that makes him a freeloader. If he doesn’t pay federal income taxes, then who does pay the bill for all the services and protections the federal government provides? Apparently, it’s up to the little people, and presumably stupid rich people, to pay for the national defense, education, environmental protections, emergency relief and so much else that is vital to the functioning of a safe and stable nation.
Now The New York Times has expanded on Clinton’s charge. Using tax documents provided anonymously, the newspaper reported that Trump’s claim of $916 million in business losses in 1995 may have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years. If so, Trump isn’t just smart, he is, as he often claims, “really, really smart.”
But if he was smart in a conventional way, as opposed to a tax-dodging way, he wouldn’t have run for president. No sensible politician would enter the glare of a presidential contest knowing that his history of no federal tax payments would come out, or he would be under tremendous pressure to show his returns. But Trump is no more sensible than he is civic-minded. He thinks stiffing Uncle Sam is something voters should admire just as he thinks his stiffing of investors and contractors is something voters will forget.
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Unfortunately, the nation’s tendency to admire rich people simply for their wealth no matter how craven, greedy or stingy they are combines here with Reaganesque convictions about the evil of taxation and the wastefulness of government. That mix means Trump’s pride in not paying a fair share, or any share, will not be politically disqualifying.
Trump can survive this as he has so much else that would have ended other candidacies. But for voters who accept and even welcome the obligations of citizenship, Trump’s lack of transparency about his taxes and his brazenness about paying none are yet another reason why he is unfit for the presidency.