What We Knew, What We Know, and Why It Matters
Does the New York Times’ extensive and highly-researched dive into Donald Trump’s taxes tell us anything we didn’t know before? As a practical matter, yes: Donald Trump actively avoided releasing his taxes for years, and now we have the actual facts and figures out in the open — or, at least, the actual facts and figures that Trump’s legions of accountants and tax lawyers decided they could not avoid offering up to the Internal Revenue Service without substantial and likely public repercussion. We also have the little tidbits, like the already-infamous $750 sum for income taxes that Trump paid with his most recent available filing, which is less than most people who do pay taxes shelled out, and which is still more than what he paid most years, which was zero. We now actually know things we didn’t, which Trump would have been happy for us not to know, forever, if possible.
As an existential matter, no: This doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. No one but the most credulous and gormless among us wasn’t aware of the Trump Presidency origin story: An overextended and overleveraged Trump, who is not so much a successful businessman as a someone who cosplayed as a successful businessman on TV, decided to “run for president” in order generate publicity to raise his personal commercial value. This publicity, however, would have been worthless if his taxes were released and he was revealed to be a threadbare huckster on the verge of dissolution who paid less on his taxes than a fry cook, and who is up to his neck in debt owned by foreign interests.
So he stalled on those until, thanks to a perfect storm of internal and external political factors, he experienced the actual worst case scenario for him, and for everybody else: He won and had to become president. Since then he’s been doing the only thing he knows how to do, which is to keep running his grift from the Oval Office, because the moment he stops, it all falls down.
All of this was known by anyone with the sense to know, and the willingness to know it. The tax numbers fill in details here and there, but the outline of the Origin Story of the Trump Presidency, which is both tragedy and farce, was already there.
Likewise, now we know for sure why it is Trump is running for re-election. It’s not that he wants the job or has a legislative or political agenda, or has any interest for or in the country he leads or the people in it. It’s because as long as he is president, all his personal financial misfortunes are shoved down the road. It may be technically possible to bankrupt a man with access to nuclear codes, but as a practical matter, it’s difficult. That doesn’t mean he’s not still in thrall, and susceptible to, the people to whom he owes money, or the political players behind those people. As they say, follow the money, and you’ll see an entire nation’s foreign policy hinging on who will cut Trump the best deal on his debt.
Equally clearly, Trump’s avoidance of personal consequence for his own financial acts is strong enough that he’s perfectly willing to undermine the validity of the election in order to stay where he is. If you were to ask him which he prefers, a functional American democracy or rolling out the crushing weight of his own debt load for another four years, you know which of these he’d choose. Someone should ask him, because after the five or so minutes of meandering word salad that passes for thought in the man’s head, he would actually say it out loud, and probably not understand why what he said was so wrong.
But let’s be clear that Trump couldn’t have gotten where he is alone. I’m not talking about the Russians or the other foreign interests who meddled with the 2016 election, although they did, and, again, everyone knows it. No, Trump needed people on the inside, and got that with the GOP. Trump neither wanted nor deserved a first term. But he got one, thanks to the GOP intellectually and politically neutering itself to the point where its base of voters gleefully swamped the “best minds” of the party to embrace a flashy con man, who happily peddled the white supremacy and bigotry they craved after eight years of having to tolerate a black man in the White House. Trump then had the good fortune of having as his political opponent someone who was both a woman (hey, did you know the GOP is also structurally sexist?), and also someone the GOP had already spent two decades vilifying on a regular and profitable basis (and yet she still got more actual voters to vote for her than Trump did, which is an important point, and which still galls Trump).
Trump doesn’t deserve a second term, either, and at this point probably can’t get one fairly. But he might get one anyway, because the GOP has definitively decided to say the quiet part loud, after years of pretending that it wasn’t saying it loudly: That a white supremacist autocracy is better than a democracy where the GOP is out of power, probably forever. That Trump is the instrument of this works perfectly well for the GOP; since Reagan the party has shown a preference for dimwitted, incurious men to install in the top office while apparatchiks do the heavy lifting away from the spotlight. Trump is certainly dimwitted and incurious. He’s also dangerous, because he owes so much money to entities that do not have the interests of the United States at heart, but the GOP has decided that as long as they can finally dismantle the social net, keep women from having control of their own bodies, and shove minorities, immigrants and the gays back into their respective holes, meh, whatever, that’s fine.
So this is the bargain between Trump and the GOP for the second term. He gets to kick his money troubles down the road, they get to perfect their white, christianist, oligarchic autocracy. We already knew why the GOP does what it does — because it’s currently a white supremacist organization whose entire political modus operandi is to deny that any other party should have control of the levers of power, whether they earned them at the ballot box or not — and now, thanks to the tax returns, we have confirmation of what we already knew about Trump: Grifter, con man, fraud, and broke… and terrified of having all of that revealed beyond the power of denial.
And thus we are at a place where we know what we knew before — only now we know it factually, and have the actual numbers. Already on the right are assertions of “it’s fake news and even if it’s not so what,” and on the left I’ve seen “it’s not going to change anyone’s mind, so what’s the point.” The former doesn’t surprise me, because the people who are in the tank for Trump aren’t there because they’re interested in facts, they’re there for the white supremacy and owning the libs; the latter doesn’t surprise me because there’s always an element on the left who would prefer to be defeatist pieces of shit because it doesn’t require any effort on their part.
The thing is, it’s not fake news, and the truth always matters, sooner or later. There’s no hiding what Trump is any more, versus what he presents himself to be, and no one can go into this election unaware of what and who they’re voting for, or against. We know what we already knew. Now let’s hope we know better.