The New York Times’ Flattering Account of President Donald Trump’s Finances

The New York Times is still on its full-time job of tormenting President Donald Trump, and its latest attention-grabbing effort is a lengthy and exhaustively researched report alleging that “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.” For now Trump’s tax lawyers and other spokespeople are denying it, and friendlier press outlets are reporting he’s threatening to sue, but we wonder why they bother.
Back during one of the general election debates Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton suggested that one of the reasons Trump was defying decades of political tradition by refusing to release his tax returns was because it might show that he’d been dodging his fair share of taxes for years, and rather than deny the charge Trump interrupted to boast “That makes me smart.” Throughout the campaign Trump presented himself as an uniquely shrewd sort of wheeler and dealer who knew America’s corruptly rigged political and economic system better than anybody, and thus argued that only he could put those talents to use on America’s behalf and restore our benighted nation to its former glory.
He never explained to our satisfaction why he’d decided at the ripe old age of 69 to cease his lifelong sybaritic lifestyle of gaming the American system and begin living out his remaining days by selflessly making America again, but a plurality of Republican primary voters fell for it, and by now an overwhelming majority of Republicans are on board with his promises, which he repeatedly assures us we can believe. By now, we figure that Trump might as well take proud credit for the undeniably ingenious wheeling and dealing that The New York Times describes.
Doing our old newspaper hand best to sum up the countless column inches that jump across several pages of The New York Times in a lede paragraph, the young Donald Trump accepted several hundred millions of dollars from his real estate mogul dad, did the old man a favor around tax time in the process, and then ended up laying a suspiciously light tax bill himself. Given that the Internal Revenue Service never raised a fuss about it, and that it is indeed smart to pay as few taxes as possible, Trump is no doubt tempted to brag about it.
The apparent problem is that The New York Times’ account belies Trump’s self-mythologizing about being a self-made multi-billionaire. Back in the old days politicians used to boast that they were been born in a little log cabin they’d built with their own two hands, but Trump won a Republican nomination and eventually the presidency by boasting that he’d made $10 billion from a “small loan of $1 million” from his father, and he’s surely loathe to relinquish such such a hardscrabble up-by-one’s-own-bootstraps Horatio Alger tale.
The best estimates of the usually reliable financial press puts Trump’s wealth somewhere between three and four hundred billion, which is well short of what he brags about but is still pretty impressive, and even if you accept the Times’ account that he started with more than $400 million from his dad it’s a pretty good return on investment over Trump’s long life. So far as we can tell he might have done just as well with any of the certificates of deposit or interest-paying savings accounts or various other financial instruments that the rigged system provides, and avoided the embarrassments of the United States Football League and the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip club and various other failed business ventures, but we’re currently in no position to deny that he didn’t come out in better financial shape than ourselves.
These days Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses are mostly invested in branding the Trump name, yet he’s somehow fallen down along everybody’s list of billionaires,  although  many of his still wholly-owned and Trump-branded properties continue to do million-dollar business with the Secret Service and the press corps and various foreign diplomats during his frequent stays, and for now he can plausibly argue that makes him smart. It remains to be seen, though, if it will make America great again.

— Bud Norman

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