According to the New York Times, Donald Trump has only paid $1,500 in federal taxes in the last 11 years. For most American parents, this sounds closer to the minimum of what you owe every year. But don’t start taking tax advice from the leader of the free world just yet. If American dads did their taxes the way Trump does, families would be ruined overnight. Trump’s approach to taxes looks more like an irresponsible twenty-something who doesn’t think debt to the government — or anyone — is something to worry about.
Did you go through a phase where you put off paying real bills because you thought you’d get away with it? Yeah, me too, and I learned the hard way that it doesn’t work. Adults who have other people relying on them pay their taxes, and also, try to pay their debts without cheating. Trump, it seems, is more like a teenager with a new credit card — he doesn’t really seem to think the rules apply to him.
In case you missed it, here are the basics of the Trump Taxes bombshell from the Times.
- For the past 11 years, Trump mostly paid zero taxes. He paid a whopping $750 for 2016 and again $750 for 2017.
- Trump mostly offset his massive tax burden by declaring various business losses which netted him a 72.9 million tax refund. This refund is currently under audit.
- Trump also offset his taxes by declaring various properties as investment properties.
- Finally, and most relevantly, Trump claimed a $26 million dollar consulting fee, connected to paying his own daughter, Ivanka Trump for, well, “consulting.” Whatever that means.
- Trump owes about $421 million bucks in loans, which he’s close to defaulting on in the next four years.
To be fair, being in debt and being in-over-your-head about that debt is something all Americans have to deal with. The difference between Trump and your average American dad is simple: Everybody’s got debt, but if I had the kind of debt Trump has, I would probably cool it with the $70,000 haircuts.
On some level, if Trump was a young twenty-something parent, trying to balance various bills, I might have some sympathy. In my twenties, I too flippantly ignored some of my state income tax responsibilities, only to have those problems come back to haunt me much, much later. I got audited. This means I received a scary letter from the IRS telling me they were going to levy my bank accounts. Thankfully, I was able to right the ship. And then I got serious about what I owed and how I was going to fix it for the future. Did it cross my mind that taxes were unfair? Yes. Did that mean that I just decided to keep on not dealing with the debt? No. As a parent, I’m ten-times more concerned about my taxes than I ever have been in my entire life. Trump seems like the opposite. He is 74 and seems to have doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled down on playing games with taxes. Sure, he has big-deal lawyers on his side to help him with his tax audits, and, yeah, he’s super-rich. But the detail that drives home the irresponsibility is the fact that he’s willing to use his daughter, Ivanka, as some kind of tax scapegoat.
Ivanka Trump is a 38-year-old grownup and Trump has claimed that her “consultant fee” means he’s allowed to claim a 26 million dollar tax credit. Kind of seems like he missed having the child tax credit, doesn’t it? Trump declaring Ivanka as a tax write-up is a little like my 69-year-old mom trying to get a child tax credit for me, her 39-year-old son. I mean, I get a child tax credit right now because I have a toddler. I guess Trump decided he wasn’t getting enough tax money back from his kids and devised a way to use his adult child as a 26 million-dollar tax credit. If I believed this option was available to me when my daughter is my age, three decades from now, I might start training her to be a “consultant” in the family business. Even if it did, claiming your own child as a business consultant is a sure-fire way for the IRS (or state tax authorities) to think you’re up to no good. I mean, even if you like Trump, you can see why this guy is being audited, right?
Has Trump done anything illegal with his taxes? The truth is, we don’t know. But when it comes to tax trouble, where there is smoke, there tends to be fire. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has pointed out that she paid more taxes as a bartender than Trump has paid in the last four years. As someone who struggled with my tax liability when I worked in restaurants, I relate to what AOC is saying — it’s tricky to figure that out, and trickier still to make sure you do it right. You could show me a flow chart that “proves” that Trump used a bunch of legal loopholes to get out of paying taxes, but that wouldn’t make me think he was doing the right thing.
But more importantly, if every American parent actively tried to avoid paying taxes, and compounded their personal debt with even more debt, it’s pretty easy to imagine what would happen to the country. Taxes are an unpleasant reality, but they do represent the shared promise of our democracy. The example we set for our children when we pay our taxes is that we believe in giving back some of what we make to make sure our government takes care of us — and hopefully, takes care of other people who need help. We can quibble about what our tax dollars are doing, but we all agree that we should be paying something.
If Trump is a leader, and people were to follow his example, then families everywhere would be out of money in a matter of months, and the basic services we rely on would cease to exist. This is simple stuff. We teach kids the golden rule all the time, but when it comes to one has-been reality TV show dad, the golden rule seems to be something left for other people.