The coverage following the New York Times’ reporting on Trump’s tax filings revealing billion dollar losses has largely focused, as if it were news, on Trump not being the wildly successful and ingenious businessman he loves to portray himself as being.
His many failed businesses, from his airlines to his casinos to his misadventures in the steak and wine businesses, as well as his multiple bankruptcies, are old, though certainly not irrelevant, news.
And that he is a fraudulent businessman, exemplified in the Trump University con job, is also old news—though these facts never lose their relevancy.
Much of what the New York Times reports regarding his tax filings in the decade covering the late 1980s and early 1990s, though, Trump actually copped to on the campaign trail. In fact, he made these very facts part of his pitch to the American people, if you recall.
Back in October 2016, for example, Nolan D. McCaskill, writing for Politico, covered Trump on the campaign trail, reporting how Trump “defended his aggressive use of tax laws that likely resulted in him not paying any personal income taxes for nearly two decades, crediting himself for ‘brilliantly’ working the system.”
He admitted proudly he gamed the system, taking full advantage of what the tax code legally allowed, as any businessman responsible to his companies would do. At the time, he insisted that he understands the tax system “better than almost anyone, which is why I am one who can truly fix them.”
This rhetorical gesture characterized much of his campaign: Because he has participated so gloriously in the most abusive and unfair systemic practices of U.S. institutions and ascended to such heights because of his abusive and unfair behaviors, he is positioned most efficaciously to address the pains inflicted on the majority of Americans.
He made this point loudly and clearly—were you listening?—back on the ole dusty campaign trail in 2016: “The unfairness of the tax laws is unbelievable. It’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time, despite, frankly, being a big beneficiary of the laws. But I’m working for you now. I’m not working for Trump. Believe me.”
Let’s underline that last part: I’m working for you now. I’m not working for Trump. Believe me.
These are the most infamous words of any snake oil salesman.
Whether or not Trump is a bad businessman is not so much the issue, largely because the verdict is in on that question. Yes, he campaigned again and again claiming that because he was such a successful businessman who knew the best people, he had the understanding and talent, the bona fides, to fix the country’s problem.
But the United Base of America, and most Americans for that matter, for the most part have absorbed his hypocrisy.
The best chance of shifting America’s popular mind might be to focus on these campaign promises, keeping the conversation on what Trump has done.
Has he worked for the American people? Or is he working for Trump and lining his own pockets?
Has he reformed the “unbelievable” unfairness of U.S. tax codes?
Well, first, analysis shows that Trump himself personally benefited to the tune of $15 million from the Republican tax overhaul.
Then, consider the fact that a company like Amazon, despite billions in profit, paid no federal taxes. While Trump has had his feud with Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, Trump has been silent on Amazon’s tax holiday, picking on Bezos because of what Trump views as the unfavorable coverage of him in Bezos’ newspaper.
And many average Americans, reports show, are not experiencing a measurable difference in their tax bills, while many also report being financially harmed by the tax bill.
Additionally, while the Republican mantra is always that tax cuts pay for themselves and grow the economy, government revenues, as I’ve reported in the pages of PoliticusUsa, are tanking and budget deficits growing, which will greatly impact the ability of the government to fund basic services and institutions, such as education and infrastructure. Indeed, it was shortly after the tax cut passed that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan reignited their typically clamor for cutting social security, Medicaid, and Medicare to address growing deficits.
And, of course, taxpayers continue to bear the cost of millions of dollars going to Trump’s Mar a Lago resort every time Trump visits, as Jason Easley has reported.
Americans might fruitfully ask themselves if they are working to benefit Trump, or if Trump is really working to benefit them.
Are the taxes we all pay—in many cases more than less for average Americans—funding the services and institutions that benefit the majority of people, as they should, or are they being funneled into the accounts of those who already enjoy a life of plenty? And those, if we take Trump’s own words, who have already benefited from an unbelievably unfair set of tax laws.
We all know Trump is a liar, a fraud, and a failed and incompetent business leader.
What Americans need to know and understand is precisely the falsity of this campaign promise and how Trump’s failure in action to follow through on that promise has impacted them.
Is he working for us?
Has he put an end to the unbelievable unfairness from which he happily and proudly benefited at our expense?
Not so fast.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.