Monday, September 28, 2020

The Price We Pay For Civilization

From the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

All this time he’s been telling us he’s the smartest businessman out there and that’s why we need to have him running the country. He can’t even run his own businesses.

But I think this points to a larger, more important issue. Trump — along with many of his followers — think they have the bounden duty to avoid paying taxes as if the Internal Revenue Service didn’t have enough deductions and loopholes to pay the least amount legally. We all do that, and there’s an entire industry that advertises about getting us the largest tax refund that we’re entitled to. But I also think we have the moral — the civil — obligation to pay our fair share. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” If you want to have the greatest country in the world, you have to pay for it. And while it could be perfectly legal for Trump and people like him to avoid paying taxes, it doesn’t make it right. As my friend and fellow playwright Franky Gonzalez noted on Facebook:

Anyone can go to the local food bank to get food. Anyone. Just go in and get it. Perfectly fine. It’s meant for the needy, it’s meant for those who desperately need food, but really, anyone can go. Anyone can get food.

Those of us lucky enough to have food in our kitchens and the ability to feed ourselves can even go.

And if we did, it’s perfectly within our rights to do so.

But it speaks to a shameful moral character to take something meant for the disadvantaged for our own benefit when we didn’t have to.

It’s much the same here with our president. Only in this case here, it also includes financial entanglements with strongmen and lobbyists who are funneling money and turning the presidency into an office for bribery like many authoritarian governments, but I digress.

He’s certainly entitled to do as he pleases. He can even lie about what he does. It’s in his right to do so. But it speaks to a deeply and morally flawed individual to use programs meant generally for small businesses in dire circumstances to make himself wealthier and then lie about paying the taxes. If it’s a non-issue, why not release the returns and be done with it all?

We know why. It’s like a well-off family taking from the food bank. You can do it. But you’re a real asshole for doing that. To release the returns would prove he’s lied about his wealth and how he’s used it in relation to the tax code. And that makes him an asshole.

When you get right down to what really matters, it is that here in America we need to remember that we have more to look out for than just ourselves. If there is anyone in this country who should lead by this example, it is the president, and that is why this story is such a revelation about the true character of Trump.  That it is no surprise that he is as morally bankrupt as his businesses says more about us than it does about him.