Trump, Taxes, and Truth

So Donald Trump likely hasn’t paid much in income taxes for the past two decades.

After reporting a loss of $916 million in 1995, he would’ve been able to forego taxes during subsequent years. The potentially illegal leaking of this information is a gift for the scandal-plagued candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who has already started employing class warfare rhetoric.

I doubt that voters will buy into that sort of rhetoric this year—at least, not from a couple who are worth over $100 million themselves. The more damaging aspect of this story is that it undermines The Donald’s most important product—himself. After devastating real estate losses, Trump largely profited on marketing himself. He has also marketed himself on the campaign trail as a successful businessman who does not engage in the failed antics of our present crop of politicians.

It turns out that Trump is not a stellar businessman, has avoided income taxes for two decades, and worked hard to keep this damaging information under wraps. In his defense, it could also be noted that he was successful in marketing himself and profiting from his name, there are other taxes besides those on income and he should not be expected to pay any taxes that he doesn’t have to.

There is also glaring hypocrisy in the attacks by the Clinton campaign and their media surrogates at the old Gray Lady. They are lambasting Trump for financial impropriety, even as the Clinton Foundation remains under a cloud of suspicion. They are critiquing Trump’s ability as a businessman when they are career politicians who have made much of their income through speeches. Perhaps the most galling bit of hypocrisy comes in the attacks upon Trump for covering up his tax returns, while the Clintons have turned cover-ups—from private email servers to private rendezvous—into a virtual cottage industry.

Donald Trump continues to stake his claim to the presidency on his business acumen, which it turns out, is not particularly impressive. Hillary Clinton continues to stake her claim to the presidency on her foreign policy experience, which it turns out, is not particularly impressive. If I were a foreign dignitary, I wouldn’t trust a handshake or commitment from either one of these candidates.

The most troubling aspect of all of this is not the fact that both of these candidates seem semi-competent on the issues they are basing their candidacies upon, but that they are so amorphous and slippery in doing so. We don’t get straight answers from either of them, because they are not straight-forward people. What you see is never what you get. There’s always a new version put up on the shelf, just a bit glitzier than the old, recalled version.

Watching these two go back and forth feels a lot like this. I think we are all working hard to deduce from these candidates’ incoherent ramblings and vacuous politicisms who they each are at their core. The problem that we keep running into is that we are not running into anything. There is no “there” there. The brilliant businessman lost almost a billion dollars and the expert foreign policy maven lost several thousand emails, some of which contained classified information.

At root (or the muddy mess where one would find roots), these two end up looking a lot like the same person. They are projections of our postmodern ideals—politicians who will be whatever we want them to be. They are happy to contradict themselves in order to appeal to two radically different audiences. They are happy to lie to our faces, as long as it serves their purposes. The politician who is willing to say anything is the politician who will also be willing to do anything. We intuitively know these things, but we chose these two, anyway.

And we will deserve the president we elect.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.