Trump’s Tax Returns: The Man Behind the Myth

By Erin Maxwell || Contributing Writer

Manhattan district attorney subpoenas Trump's tax returns in probe of hush  money payments | Salon.com

(Getty/Salon)

An explosive report released by the New York Times on September 27th revealed what many had suspected: Trump has consistently and brazenly been paying far less in taxes than he should be. Trump has paid a whopping $750 in federal income taxes in the years 2016 and 2017, and $0 in personal income taxes for ten years. The president’s consistent failure to release his tax returns, a precedent set by President Richard Nixon post-Watergate, raised public concerns about the legality of his payments. This mistrust was compounded by his flippant comment in the 2016 debate, claiming that avoiding taxes “makes [him] smart,” (New York Times). Concerns over his honesty are not unusual, but this specific evasion may not only affect his public perception—it could land him behind bars.
The New York Times report is lengthy, but a recurring theme throughout it is very clear. Trump is much better at playing the part of a wealthy billionaire than actually being one. Since the year 2000, his business ventures, including golf courses and hotels, have lost more than $315 million, consistently staying in the red for nearly two decades. Additionally, the Trump Corporation (the President’s real estate company) reported losing a similarly staggering $134 million since 2000. The reason for Trump’s failure to pay income taxes was apparently due to the huge losses he was reporting each year, a failure proving to be wholly incongruent with the campaign message of his financial prowess. His role in “The Apprentice” as a fiery billionaire was just that, a role. But this role would prove far more lucrative than any of his legitimate business ventures, raking in $197 million for its 16-year run and $230 million in celebrity endorsements and opportunities related to the show.
Trump’s failure to pay personal income taxes was immediately contested by his lawyer, Alan Garten, who claimed that “most, if not all, of the facts, appear to be inaccurate.” Still, the numbers don’t lie. The “personal taxes” Garten claims Trump paid aren’t personal at all, as Garten refers to other categories of federal taxes such as Social Security, Medicare, and taxes for Trump’s household employees. Garden also misleadingly claimed that Trump “paid with tax credits,” an impossible statement which conflates deductions for charitable activities with actual payments.

(Getty/New York Post)

Truly the most disturbing highlight of the Times’ report was the revelation of a possible impending conflict between the president and the IRS. In the next four years, a tax audit will hold Trump personally responsible for over $300 million in loans. In the context of his failing businesses, the Times makes the reasonable inference that his pattern of claiming exemptions may return. This audit is the result of Trump’s claiming a $72.9 million tax refund in 2008 after claiming a total of $1.4 billion dollars in business losses. The audit of this refund’s legitimacy was sent to the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2011, where it has sat for nine years. But time is running out.
Trump’s facade of success and luxury is beginning to erode. His annual financial statements claim that he made $434.9 million from his assets. But in reality, this figure refers to his revenue, while his profit margin actually landed him $47.4 million in the negative. With the election just a month away, the voters flocking to the polls for America’s “best businessman” may be left doubting the self-proclaimed economic mastermind.

Sophomore Erin Maxwell is a Contributing Writer. Her email is emaxwell@fandm.edu.

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