Death and Taxes

Why the muted story about Donald Trump’s tax returns are more important than you think...

On Tuesday of Last week, Rachel Maddow, during her show on MSNBC, released a small segment of Donald Trump’s tax returns distributed to them by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, David Cay Johnston. While the report was pretty drawn out in typical "Maddow historical review-like" fashion, the taxes show that Trump paid $36.5 million in what is known as an “alternative minimum tax”  which allows those who claim it to pay 25% of their federal income tax as opposed to the rate required by law in 2005 at the time which was 35%. This information comes as it was revealed that Trump made close to $153 million as well as reporting over $100 million in losses in that same year. 

Many conservative outlets have been right to report that this is a higher percentage than President Obama paid in federal income taxes at 24% in 2015. It should also be noted that the president’s salary is about $400,000 a year. 



It appeared that the main point of the story was to point out that despite continued calls for the White House to release the President’s tax returns along with how, revealing such documents, would answer so many questions for so many Americans, while the President still refuses to do so. This is, in fact, an important issue. A recent poll suggests that 3 out of 4 voters want Trump to release his tax returns to the public. So while the story may have appeared to be less than stellar in what should constitute a bombshell story, the returns were still news-worthy. 

Let’s focus on something that was largely left out in the reporting over the last few days 

Donald Trump, and in fact the Republican party as a whole, are opposed to taxes. During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to get rid of several taxes, prompting many on the Left to question whether or not Trump would use the office to set up a tax code that could enrich him further, as well as others like him. According to these documents, using the 'alternative minimum tax', as opposed to being regularly taxed, made it so that he could disallow $103 million in reporting, versus it being allowed. Think of it as a discount on taxes due to marking huge losses. However, Trump's campaign writings propose eliminating the 'alternative minimum tax' altogether. This suggests that if Trump had implemented the policies he wanted in 2005, he would have only had to pay $5 million of the $36.6 million he owed under the AMT policy. 


Once again this shows a steady paper trail of corruption, albeit a rather minor one that was hyped up to be a bombshell story. This is only relative to the several unanswered questions that come from a single 2005 tax record. David Cay Johnston received the taxes in his mailbox; When discussing the possible source of the leaked tax returns with ‘Democracy NOW!’, he alluded to a possible leak within the administration and that there is the potential to believe that there could be reason to introduce a relatively decent tax return (or at least a non-controversial one) in order to distract from the tumultuous news cycle following the current administration. 

This story teaches us a couple of things. The curse of expectation is fueled by the perpetual sensationalism mainstream media, while Rachel Maddow’s advertisement of this news proves as such. We also learned that it’s if the report is about uncovering something we may not know about Trump, we need to be careful how we consume it. If we were to just look at these tax returns without examining Trump’s tax policy, many would see this as solid proof that there is nothing wrong with his finances and there he in fact the businessman he has been claiming to be (which is the narrative some outlets are running with). However, after close examination of Trump’s tax plan, budget proposals, and campaign promises, a legitimate story arises about corruption and using the White House for Donald Trump to enrich himself. But one key thing we learn is that this is not that simple; A key piece of information is the source of these leaked tax returns and what motive there would be for releasing them in the first place. The administration’s calm response of tepid disapproval of the release of these documents suggest that Trump is uncharacteristically not concerned with these events. Which may mean nothing and is just a skepticism of this young writer, even though many questions could be solved with the White House agreeing to release the President’s full tax history...

…which even after the past week, is still unlikely. 


Watch Full "Democracy Now" Interview HERE:

PoliticsAlec Bose