Matt Venezia is a sophomore biology major with a minor in writing.
On Sept. 27, The New York Times published an article revealing the details of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which date back nearly two decades. In 2016, when Trump won the presidency, he paid exactly $750 in federal income taxes, or less than a new iPhone despite being a billionaire. For 11 of the past 18 years, he has not paid any federal income tax whatsoever. In short, most of us pay more in tuition at Stony Brook University than Trump pays in federal income taxes.
Whether you agree with his policies or not, the situation is very clear: The president blatantly lied to the American people for years about his taxes and tax returns, paying nearly $12,000 less than the average American in federal income taxes during the year he assumed the highest office in the United States.
This is not surprising. Donald Trump is a billionaire in an economic system that rewards the rich for getting richer by making it easier for them to bend laws and avoid taxes. People with high income in the United States can write off personal expenses as “business expenses” to lower their tax bills and often abuse tax shelters, which reallocate assets to minimize taxable incomes. Trump has done it himself. He has written off $70,000 for hair styling for his former reality show, “The Apprentice,” nearly 100 grand for his daughter’s hair and makeup, and numerous costs associated with his private jet. As the New York Times puts it, “Hair stylists, table linens, property taxes on a family estate — all have been deducted as business expenses.”
Those with economic knowhow and a sufficient amount of wealth can write off the financial losses they’ve incurred in business, too, essentially paying less in taxes for losing money, just as the president repeatedly did. Those at the richest levels of American society often take the perks that come along with it and avoid taxes or, at the extreme end, are economically corrupt. To put it in perspective, the top 0.5 percent of American earners underpay taxes by $50 billion annually. Is this rather mundane incidence of tax avoidance by a member of the billionaire class a public relations disaster for the Trump administration? My answer is no. Firstly, many other billionaires, like Jeff Bezos, avoid their taxes and are largely accepted by the public. Secondly, Trump is either going to keep lying by saying he actually did pay his taxes and this is “fake news,” as he did during last Tuesday night’s debate, or he is going to tout his intellect by saying he was able to outsmart the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), the United States’ tax collection agency.
Either way, the Trump administration and his campaign have dealt with far worse than lying about his taxes over the years of his presidency. Most recently, he gave a shout out to a far-right white nationalist group called the Proud Boys, saying “stand back and stand by” on national television during the first presidential debate. And he is still a viable candidate.
He may lose some moderate voters and those that pay their taxes who want their president to do the same. He’ll probably lose some of his hardworking supporters who rely on food stamps, yet still pay more in taxes than he does. But, the president’s decision to not pay taxes won’t change much of anything for the election on a broad scale. A small sample size from a BBC News article suggests not many will be swayed by Trump’s tax avoidance.
As Trump himself once said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Though it may have been hyperbole, in a sense, Trump was right. His voter base is clearly not easily turned off, and his taxes won’t change anything in the upcoming election.