What have we actually learnt from Trump's tax revelations?

28 September 2020

7:25 PM

28 September 2020

7:25 PM

Is anyone really surprised that Donald Trump’s tax affairs are opaque? Or that he is not as rich as he claims? Is it really all that horrifying that he has for years claimed business losses in order to offset his significant income tax liability? Does it appal us that the Trump family used a Delaware-based consulting group to pay themselves?

Of course not.

The New York Times’s big Trump tax files splash yesterday is therefore something of a damp squib. It is well-timed — an election is fast-approaching and the story might give Biden a good attack line in the big TV debate on Tuesday night. The reportage is quite interesting, too, especially to those of us who take a sordid interest in how the richest among us can get away with paying so little to the government.

But there is no smoking gun. Despite clearly exhaustive efforts, the Times investigative team has failed to uncover any illegality or clear wrongdoing. In fact, the sub-text of the story is a mounting frustration at the skill of Trump’s accountants in alleviating their man’s fiscal burden. The reporters seem particularly pained to note that a law passed under President Barack Obama enabled Trump to recoup more historic losses than he could otherwise have done.

As a result, the paper is reduced to mocking Trump where they think it hurts him most — by pointing out that he’s not as rich or as ‘smart’ as he says he is. Most of his business empire runs at a loss — ha ha! That line of attack gives satisfaction to media people who now hate Trump for a living. But do voters really care?

It’s arguable that such disclosures remind voters that the man in the White House is an if-not-fraudulent-at-least-somewhat-deceptive billionaire. Many voters would prefer a president with a more virtuous business past. That might be why Trump has been so reluctant to publish his tax returns. Then again, Mitt Romney never excited the electorate in the way Trump does. And Trump’s ability to elude the IRS without apparently breaking the law plays well with many Americans. I remember asking an American in 2016 if he didn’t think Trump was a bit of a gangster. ‘Oh yeah, but these guys in Washington are 25 cent gangsters,’ he replied. ‘Trump is the whole dollar!’

The Trump tax saga is really just another example of the way in which the anti-Trump media defeats itself. If let’s say the New York Times and other organs had never mentioned Trump’s tax returns; or had not run earlier ‘bombshell’ weekend stories about his tax filings that promised a lot more than they delivered — then a big Trump story might now make more waves. As it is Trump can just call it ‘fake news’ and the cycle moves on. Maybe Joe Biden will stumble onto a zinger line on Tuesday about Trump either being a hopeless businessman or a crook or probably both. Otherwise, the story will just fade away.

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