From the moment President Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns in 2016, I was sure his financial record was dirty. Four years later, the evidence has finally come to light. In a shocking release, The New York Times disclosed that Trump, who boasts a net worth of $2.5 billion, paid less in his 2016 and 2017 taxes than the average American household.
Years in the making, the Times’ report laid out Trump’s “chronic losses and years of tax avoidance” in excruciating detail. Most notably, reporters revealed that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes during his first year as president. Before that, he hadn’t paid income taxes for 10 of the 15 previous years. Trump tactfully shifted his finances into risky ventures to report financial losses and claim substantial, decades-long tax breaks. This is a devious maneuver that allows billionaires to skirt the federal tax code. Trump’s declared losses of $915.7 million in 1995 further provided him “a tax deduction that could have allowed him to avoid federal income taxes for almost two decades.”
Make no mistake; Trump is proud of his deception. He flaunts his wealth and his ability to work around the tax code. Maybe some see such acquisitiveness as befitting an ideal president. But this country is not a corporation, nor should it run as one.
Despite holding vested interests in his own material gain, the president has campaigned on “America First” principles for years. Yet he has continuously failed to translate them into anything but campaign T-shirts. His political platform prioritizes revitalizing the American economy through doling out corporate tax breaks, reviving manufacturing, deregulating big businesses and, of course, continuing to build the wall. He opportunistically strives to appeal to poor American voters through the glamour of trickle-down economics and xenophobia. All the while, his economic policies have only increased the wealth gap and reduced the reach of essential anti-poverty programs for the working class.
While Trump continues to accept funds from lobbyists and foreign officials, collect revenue from his businesses abroad and write off millions of dollars on shady “consulting fees” and the linens at his Mar-a-Lago club, Americans are overwhelmed. We are in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic that has shut down over 100,000 small businesses, exhausted our broken health care system and forced millions into unemployment at a record-high rate. With no clear end in sight, Americans are struggling to make ends meet as Congress vacillates on the renewal of unemployment and stimulus packages. This is a dire financial crisis as much as it is a public health emergency. Yet once again, Trump has fallen far short of his promise to “Make America Great Again.” He hasn’t even managed to make it stable. Although his platform predicts the American economy will bounce back after the pandemic, critics believe his delayed response has caused long-term economic damage.
Furthermore, Trump’s divisive rhetoric targeting immigrants as thieving, slovenly and guilty of ruining our economy couldn’t be any more pertinent than in this moment. As have most hardworking immigrants in the U.S., my immigrant family has paid more taxes during the last four years than our president. The average middle-class American could also say the same. While we scramble to finance our daily exigencies, Trump is building an empire for his family and vouching for laws that allow the nation’s wealthiest to follow suit.
How is this ethical? It’s infuriating to watch billion-dollar companies utilize dubious methods to evade taxes, but for our president to do so while homelessness and wealth inequality fester within our nation provokes an entirely new kind of disgust. Trump’s choice to put personal profit over his national duty is pathetic and, frankly, a perfect illustration of his political ineptitude — he was never fit for the presidency. Come November, I hope every American will keep this failure in mind as they vote him out of office.
Leah Woldai (23C) is from Lawrenceville, Georgia.