Not long before the first presidential debate, I turned to my wife and said, “You watch – Donald Trump is going to say something in one of the debates that’s finally going to be his downfall.”
I didn’t have to wait long.
Trump’s riposte to Hillary Clinton in the first debate that not paying taxes “makes me smart” seems to have clinched it (though it was quickly eclipsed by the Access Hollywood tape). There’s a bumpersticker somewhere in that debate comment: “Suckers pay taxes so Donald Trump doesn’t have to.”
That’s essentially what Donald Trump is saying: “I’m smarter than you because I’ve figured out how to avoid paying taxes.” He’s reached the nirvana that many of his supporters only dream of: the ability to starve the faceless bureaucrats who only want to serve themselves and their friends by padding the public sector payroll.
Except … it’s not true. As CNN reported the other day, eight out of ten Trump supporters believe paying taxes is a civic duty – that is, the price we pay for living in a great country, a commonwealth where those who can contribute help pave the way for others who will eventually do the same for the people who follow them.
It’s also not true that Donald Trump paid no taxes because he was smart. He paid no taxes because the tax code has been written to allow billionaires like him to gamble huge sums of money without taking a whole lot of risk. I believe that people who invest in our infrastructure might need an incentive to do so, but the incentive to do so is profit, not a tax break that allows you to avoid paying taxes for a child’s entire life. He’s taking advantage of laws that most of his supporters have no access to.
And that’s why I say thank goodness for Donald Trump. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of laws on the books that let rich people spend and invest without risk: if they win, they get the profit; if they lose, they get a write-off. But those laws only benefit those who have lots and lots of disposable income. That’s why rich people can get away with paying no taxes. That’s why Mitt Romney pays a lower percentage of his annual income in taxes than I do. That’s why the rest of us have to pony up more – because people who really can afford it have accountants and lawyers and lobbyists to make sure they don’t have to pony up at all.
What this all boils down to is that Donald Trump is pretty darn stupid. Inadvertently, he’s turned a klieg light on the rank unfairness of our tax laws. Maybe now we’ll start clamoring for a tax code that benefits everyone, not just the billionaires.