What trade-offs would a president with this level of indebtedness be willing to make to save face?
In a tour de force of hard won reporting, the New York Times has put numerical clothing on what we’ve known about President Donald Trump for decades — that, at best, he’s a haphazard businessman, human billboard and serial bankruptcy artist who gorges on debt he may have a hard time repaying.
The Times, in a news story published Sunday evening that disclosed years of the president’s tax returns, also put a lot of clothing on things we didn’t know. Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he was elected president, and the same amount the following year, when he entered the White House. In many years recently he hasn’t paid anything at all. He has played so fast and loose with the taxman that he’s entangled in an audit. He paid his daughter Ivanka lush consulting fees that he deducted as a business expense even though she helped him manage the Trump Organization. And he’s taken questionable tax write-offs on everything from getting his hair coifed to managing his personal residences.
Step away from the tragicomic tawdriness and grift that the tax returns define, however, and focus on what they reveal about Trump as the most powerful man in the world and occupant of the Oval Office.
Due to his indebtedness, his reliance on income from overseas and his refusal to authentically distance himself from his hodgepodge of business, Trump represents a profound national security threat – a threat that will only escalate if he’s re-elected. The tax returns also show the extent to which Trump has repeatedly betrayed the interests of many of the average Americans who elected him and remain his most loyal supporters.
Russ Choma reported in Mother Jones last summer that Trump’s debts were nearly $500 million and would come due in relatively short order, pressuring the president’s finances. But Trump’s debts are even bigger than that, and he’s worked hard to keep them hidden for decades. Dan Alexander, a senior editor at Forbes, has been covering Trump’s business interests since 2016 and has a new book out about the president’s financial conflicts of interest, “White House Inc.” Alexander, in a helpful tally he shared Sunday evening, estimates Trump’s total indebtedness to be about $1.1 billion. Now that’s more like it.
If Trump was still just a reality TV oddity, that wouldn’t be earthshaking. But he’s president, and the trade-offs someone like him would be willing to make to save his face and his wallet taint every public policy decision he makes – including issues around national security. If Vladimir Putin, for example, can backchannel a loan or a handout to the president, how hard is Trump going to be on Russia? Not that we should worry about Trump’s relationship with Putin. That’s just a hypothetical question.
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