03 October 2016
There's a certain tone-deafness to much of the commentary inspired by the New York Times' revelation that Donald Trump claimed nearly one billion dollars in losses in 1995 and thus was exempt from paying personal income taxes for many years. If critics hope to impress people with the idea that Trump thus got away without paying his "fair share" of taxes, they probably hope in vain. Those who already believe that people like Trump should pay their "fair share" regardless of the circumstances almost certainly have decided already against voting for him. It's more likely that many Americans disregard the "pay your fair share" argument because they want to pay as little in taxes as possible, for one thing, and for another such people most likely believe that taxes are objectively too high, on the assumption that they're being spent primarily on objects they object to -- Welfare, foreign aid, etc. -- or else simply go into politicians or their cronies' pockets. If there's a story to exploit here, it's about the $916,000,000 loss and how it would seem to refute the otherwise indestructible image of Trump among his cultists as a "highly skilled" businessman. Even then, however, there's room to doubt whether the news will have any effect. For most of the cult, the assumption that Trump is successful is based on the fact that he appears successful now, which would appear to show that he came back from whatever ailed him twenty years ago. That Trump may have owed his survival to the laws of the land that allow for bankruptcy filings and write-offs on your tax forms most likely won't impress the cult. It would only reinforce Trump's own narrative, according to which his mastery at working the system makes him ideally qualified to reform it, though why he should want to when it works so well for him is a mystery for another time. The fact is that there's no shame in his sphere of business or among those who idolize his sort of businessman. Once upon a time someone who got into Trump's sort of predicaments might have been dragged to debtor's prison, or expected to kill himself for defaulting on obligations. Luckily for Trump we live in a more civilized world today, but people like him sometimes seem not to appreciate the benefits of an indulgent civilization when the stakes are much lower quantitatively, yet are just as high qualitatively for working-class people. The Trumps of our society always get another chance, unless they're dumb enough to get arrested, convicted and jailed, yet often espouse "or else" options for others. And while Trump and his acolytes rail against the biased media, Trump himself owes it to that same media that so many people perceive him as an invincible success story, not to mention a leader, since that helped make him credible when he fired game show contestants for all those years. The real key to Trump's success in the long term may be that no one has yet been in a position to fire him.