Trump tax-dodging exposed; average Trump hotel worker pays more than him
Donald Trump holds $1,000,000 in the vault of his Atlantic City casino in 1990. Revelations from Trump's tax returns published by the New York Times suggest Trump has spent decades dodging taxes, using his money-losing businesses as shields to avoid paying what he owes. | "Harry Benson: Shoot First" Press Materials / Magnolia Pictures

In the year he became president, Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes. The average worker at his Trump National Doral resort hotel in Miami, meanwhile, with a salary of just $38,000, paid almost $3,000—four times as much as the president. The shamefully small amount of tax forked over by Trump while his workers paid their share is just one detail among many exposed in an explosive report on the president’s finances published by the New York Times.

In an “October Surprise” that came a few days early, the Times produced a comprehensive survey of the tax returns that President Trump has fought so hard to keep secret for years. What the Times revealed is a story of tax-dodging, money-losing businesses used to prop up a billionaire lifestyle, and a U.S. president who owes hundreds of millions in loans that are about to come due.

It confirmed what millions of us already knew: The con man in the White House has used his position and power for his own benefit at the expense of working people. The revelations go beyond just Trump, though. They are a case study of the various schemes and scams that the capitalist and landlord class use to shield themselves from the taxes the rest of us pay.

2017, the year he paid just $750 in federal income tax, is the same year Trump pushed $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich through Congress. The cuts drove the average tax rate of the 400 richest families in the country below that of the bottom half of U.S. households for the first time ever.

After Trump’s 2017 tax cuts were instituted, the 400 wealthiest families in the United States paid a lower effective tax rate than everyone in the bottom 50% of the country for the first time ever.

For 11 of the 18 years covered by the records possessed by the Times, Trump paid zero dollars to the federal government in income taxes. But he’s not just avoided paying taxes; in many instances, he even managed to get the government to give him money at tax time. The biggest case involves a $72.9 million tax refund Trump got over a decade ago, which the IRS is auditing. If the refund is determined to be fraudulent, Trump would be on the hook for more than $100 million in just that single case.

Trump avoided the taxman through a variety of accounting tricks and deduction maneuvers—many of them created to benefit the wealthy and completely legal. He used his empire of failing businesses—golf courses, hotels, resorts, and more—as a source of write-offs to reduce the taxes he and his family should have been paying. Salaries, such as that for daughter Ivanka Trump, were written-off as “consulting fees,” while lawyer’s fees for a criminal defense case and $70,000 hair salon charges were deducted as just normal business expenses.

The long list of deductions showcases Trump to be not just a master of tax avoidance, but also a colossal failure as a businessman, despite his claims to the contrary. The Trump family has maintained a lavish lifestyle and Trump himself raked in $600 million from his time as host of “The Apprentice,” but all the other businesses that are his claim to fame are actually just money pits which serve as a defense against taxation.

As the Times summarized the situation, “A key element of the alchemy of Mr. Trump’s finances: using the proceeds of his celebrity to purchase and prop up risky businesses, then wielding their losses to avoid taxes.”

It is becoming clear that Trump’s 2016 run for president may have largely been a marketing ploy—another way to get a bailout for himself. Right-wing figures like Roger Stone and Roy Cohn had been pushing him to run on their extremist agenda for years, seeing that Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, and pro-corporate politics matched their own. But it may have been Trump’s pending personal financial doomsday that finally pushed him into the race.

During his initial run for the White House in 2016, Donald Trump used the employees of his Trump National Doral golf club in Miami as props for his campaign, as seen in this photo. The average worker at National Doral pays four times more in federal income tax than Trump paid in 2016. | Evan Vucci / AP

It is estimated that Trump is carrying a personal debt load that could be as high as $421 million. Most of those loans and property mortgages come due within the next four years. Washed up as a business figure and with the TV celebrity racket petering out, Trump set out to re-market himself as the leader of an insurgent political movement in the mid-2010s. He hoped to set up new avenues to get endorsement and income revenues for himself.

In the process though, perhaps unintentionally, he actually won the White House. Trump now has the ultimate negotiating leverage with creditors who would likely be reluctant to foreclose on a sitting president. This is undoubtedly an important aspect in Trump’s determined fight to hold on to power no matter the cost.

Barely any aspect of Trump’s agenda as president is disconnected from his personal financial interests. The recent smattering of “Middle East peace deals” that have seen a number of Arab countries recognize Israel are also linked in part to Trump family finances. Major loan deals totaling in the millions have been negotiated by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner with interests in U.S.-allied states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Other financial dealings with the Middle East oil giants—including related to the funding of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign—offered help for Trump in exchange for crippling the Iranian oil industry. The scuttling of the Iran nuclear deal and intense new sanctions were among the first actions Trump took when he entered office; the Saudi and UAE oil industries benefitted massively.

While Trump was making moves to benefit his overseas benefactors on the foreign policy front, he was also using his position to make more money than ever through maneuvers back home that presented clear conflicts of interest. His hotels and clubs have played host to thousands of lobbyists, politicians, and foreign officials who all paid exorbitant room rates, membership fees, and conference charges seeking favor or face time with Trump.

The reactions from labor and progressives to the Trump tax revelations have been swift and filled with condemnation.

The country’s top labor union federation, the AFL-CIO, listed off the average tax bills faced by working people and compared them to the president. “Teachers paid $7,239. Firefighters paid $5,283. Nurses paid $10,216. Trump paid $750.”

Former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes said that “Trump’s tax returns reinforce the economy he wants: one where workers subsidize the wealthy who pay nothing.” Driving the point home in easy-to-understand terms, he said, “The write off for…the hairstylist was more money than most Americans make in a year.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio put the matter in stark terms. “If you work for a living, chances are you paid more in taxes than President Trump—and he’s spent the past four years rigging the system even more for people like him.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has not commented on the revelations so far; he’s expected to hit Trump on his tax-dodging in Tuesday night’s presidential debate. His campaign circulated a video emphasizing the same tax bills workers face which were highlighted by the AFL-CIO.

Other Biden campaign statements as well as his running mate, Kamala Harris, spent much of Monday highlighting the danger of a Trump-dominated Supreme Court, especially the potential of a reversal of the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic that’s already killed 200,000 Americans and made tens of millions jobless.

The Trump tax exposé may not make a dent in the seemingly impenetrable wall of support he enjoys from his base, but millions of working-class voters can now see the president for what he is: the political representative of a corporate and property-owning class that bilks public tax dollars for their own benefit while leaving all of us to foot the bill for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

This is what capitalism does. Trump’s tax records just give us more evidence.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.