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Home / Culture and Society / Hero of the American Taxpayer: Why Clinton Won’t Draw Much Blood from Trump’s Tax Return Secrecy
Hillary Clinton shouldn't expect to score major political points by implying, or even showing, that Donald Trump doesn't pay his personal income taxes. It just puts him in a place where we all, at least on some level, wish we could be.

Hero of the American Taxpayer: Why Clinton Won’t Draw Much Blood from Trump’s Tax Return Secrecy

hillary clinton donald trump two-party systemOne of the most heated exchanges in last night’s presidential debate concerned Donald Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public.

Releasing personal income tax returns from the past several years has become customary for major-party presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton suggested that Trump must be “hiding something” – perhaps that he hadn’t paid any federal tax at all.

“[T]he only years that anybody’s ever seen,” Clinton said, “were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.”

“That makes me smart,” Trump interjected.

“So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health,” Clinton went on, zeroing in on the issue from what should be the most effective angle – because yes, it is federal taxes that pay for the military, for schools, etc.

When she repeated a moment later, “And maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years,” Trump interjected again:

“It would be squandered, too, believe me.”

Trump’s attitude on avoiding paying income tax resonates with voters who pick up on it. First, it makes him “smart” – able to avoid paying taxes without (as far as we know) breaking the law. That’s a secret dream for many middle-class Americans.

Second, money he did pay in “would be squandered.” Isn’t that how so many of us feel? No doubt some of it would be wasted, on ill-conceived military adventures like the Iraq War, or on paying too much for medications because Congress won’t allow Medicare to bargain for better prices.

The fact is that Trump’s alleged ability to finagle his way around paying federal income tax doesn’t make him seem like a sleaze. Quite the opposite: It makes him a hero.

On a gut level, no one likes the income tax. American taxpayers, conservative or liberal, wish (secretly or otherwise) that they could either weasel their way out of it, or earmark their money for only the programs and policies they support. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an honest one.

Trump’s revealing asides during the debate show that in this narrow but resonant sense, he’s just like the average American.

Why not release his tax returns, then? Well, Trump may still be worried that many voters would frown on a very rich man avoiding income tax while they, with their vastly more limited incomes, are unable to do so. Or, as Clinton hinted, he may be hiding something more damning.

We may never know; there’s no law requiring Trump to release his tax returns.

But either way, Democrats shouldn’t expect to score major political points by implying, or even showing, that Trump doesn’t pay his taxes. It just puts him in a place where we all, at least on some level, wish we could be.


About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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4 comments

  1. For me Jon, I don’t think Clinton was trying to draw a formal victory from her observation.

    Rather, she is spotlighting that a man who complains and remarks about an imperfect system is not doing his fair share, as a U.S. citizen, to pay into said system to make it better. Regardless of whether or not I want to pay taxes, I do because that money is allocated to something that uses it for the overall infrastructure of our society.

    It’s easy for Trump to admonish the tax structure when he can put himself above the system that the rest of us have to work within, which in turn makes him less a “change agent” and moreso an agent of his own self interests.

    I couldn’t see someone with that kind of attitude running a country where leading by example is key to success, not just doing what is “smart” for your bottom line as a slick suit.

    Clinton’s point was made in that Trump is self-serving individual willing to dupe the system to suit his ends, then turn around and criticize that system when it works to his own favor to do so. That’s not very adult or admirable.

    Needless to say, with respect, #ImWithHer. – QH

    • He could have replied that he knows where the loop holes are and so is well equipped to make it fairer to all Americans, but that’s not in his heart and it was obvious last night.

    • “Clinton’s point was made in that Trump is self-serving individual willing to dupe the system to suit his ends, then turn around and criticize that system when it works to his own favor to do so. That’s not very adult or admirable.”

      do you mean like Bill and Hillary did with the Clinton Foundation?

  2. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Grow the Gross Domestic Product at a 3.5% to 4% rate rather than the current 1+%. There are strategies to do this like targeted tax reductions, regulatory simplification (although the Financial Industry needs continual audit and oversight). A higher GDP would put more revenues into government coffers. Additionally, the repatriation of $2 trillion+ dollars in overseas bank accounts would boost local economies considerably if the money came back to this country with a lower tax attached.

    At a 4% rate of GDP growth, more revenues would be available to pay off the huge debt servicing of a $19 trillion debt, although on a net basis- the debt is lower. In addition, there are consumption – type taxes which bring in revenues too. Taxes on gasoline, tobacco, pot, alcohol, firearms etc. bring considerable revenues into our government coffers.

    No-one really avoids consumption based taxes. There are ways to exempt the poor from paying a disproportionate consumption tax by providing “an exemption card” which could be used just like a food stamp card. The “exemption card” would forgive the tax on a proportional basis based on income or a lack thereof.

    Everyone in this society pays some tax whether it be on a movie ticket, cigarette, alcoholic beverage, bridge/tunnel toll, purchase of a firearm, purchase of an auto or a grocery store purchase of a non-food item. In fact, owners of real estate property pay taxes too.

    Irregardless of the federal taxation of individuals, all Americans pay taxes at the pump and for vices of all kinds. The principal way to tax everyone uniformly is with an inescapable flat tax as proposed by people like Forbes.