Reports on Donald Trump’s tax avoidance suggest plenty about his character, and Hillary Clinton will make the most of it.
But let’s not forget what going nearly 20 years without paying federal income tax, on a loss of nearly $1 billion, says about the so-called conservatism of the nominee’s Republican Party.
This article was originally published at Washington Monthly
Put bluntly, news of Donald Trump’s tax avoidance indicts the Republican Party on the charge of rank hypocrisy. It has nominated a man who represents everything the party has said it opposed since the election of America’s first black president.
Republicans have nominated a “taker.”
Not long ago, a man named Mitt Romney was running for the GOP’s 2012 nomination. Shortly after securing the nomination, a video emerged of Romney, a former executive of the Wall Street firm Bain Capital, telling a group of donors that his path to victory would not include about “47 percent” of Americans (emphasis mine).
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. […]
The president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
It would have been bad enough if Mitt Romney had been alone in besmirching about half of the electorate. But he wasn’t alone.
In fact, Romney was echoing a widespread talking point at the time among Republicans and conservatives, which was this: With the election of President Barack Obama, the United States is now divided between those who take and those who make.
The makers are business people. They make jobs, they make products, they pay taxes, and they are the foundation of society.
The takers are the people living off the hard work of others, people who don’t pay their fair share, who take out mortgages for houses they can’t afford, who want the federal government to be responsible for their lives, who depend any kind of “welfare.”
Unsaid is that these “takers” aren’t white.
Indeed, “takers” was the leitmotif characterizing what would become the “Tea Party.” Recall the rant launching a movement, from CNBC’s Rick Santelli in 2009 (italics are mine):
The government is promoting bad behavior. … You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology. How about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, andreward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
That would become boilerplate among Republicans in 2012.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.”
Former US Rep. (now Speaker of the House) Paul Ryan: “We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society.”
Former US Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former Republican presidential candidate: “People who pay nothing can easily forget the idea that there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Every one of these Republicans has endorsed Donald Trump. Yet, Trump has now been exposed as one of those takers.
He doesn’t pay his fair share. He depends on the government (a rigged tax code) to take responsibility for his life. He believes he is entitled to such government support. Indeed, while you and I and everyone we know has spent the last two decades carrying the water, as Santelli said, Donald Trump has been drinking it.
And he does so with the blessing of his party.
When asked what he thought of Trump’s tax avoidance, Speaker Ryan said: “I don’t think it’s that harmful. I think people who don’t like him are going to continue disliking him.”
Nothing about the tipping point he cautioned against four years ago. Nothing about the moral decay of American culture.
Much is said about Trump the man. There’s much to revile. Not enough is said about what Trump represents as his party’s standard bearer and the voice of American conservatism.
The reason for that may be more obvious than we think.
There’s nothing to talk about.