Trump and his Cynical Critics

How remarkable it is that what’s best for America so often coincides with what’s best for President Donald Trump’s businesses. To cite just the latest example, by sheer coincidence an exhaustive search for the perfect place to host the upcoming G-7 summit wound up at a Florida golf course that just happens to be owned by Trump.
By all accounts the Trump National Doral outside of Miami is a ritzy joint with plenty of room for a large gathering of foreign officials, even if business have been down precipitously over the last couple of years, but in this cynical age some will inevitably suspect that the golf resort was chosen to enrich Trump. Perish the thought, according to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured reporters on Thursday that “We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” even if no previous administration ever chose a Trump property for a summit. Mulvaney also assured the reporters that Trump won’t make any money from the arrangement, and although he didn’t explain why not only a partisan hater would doubt his word.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for withdrawing American troops from Syria, which has allowed Turkey to seize large swaths of land from our erstwhile Kurdish allies, but only the presidents most mean spirited opponents would think the decision was at all affected by Trump’s personal bottom line. Back in the ’16 presidential campaign Trump admitted to a friendly talk radio show that “I guess I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two,” but surely that never entered Trump’s mind.
All that fuss about Trump withholding military aid from our Ukrainian allies unless they launched some investigations into corruption was entirely in the best interest of American national security, we’re sure, even if the investigations Trump requested happen to target a potential election opponent and could possibly confirm some fanciful conspiracy theories about why he lost the popular vote last time around.
The trade war Trump has also brought bipartisan criticism, with farmers and manufacturers and consumers taking a big hit for what looks to turn out to be a pretty much status quo trade deal, but it would be downright mean to think that the sweetheart deals First Daughter and senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump got from the Chinese at the outset of negotiations had anything to do with it. Surely it’s sheer coincidence, too,  that Air Force cargo planes were diverted to a civilian airport which happens to be located next to a Trump-owned golf resort where business has also been down lately.
Past presidents have divested themselves of their business holdings and placed their fortunes in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and released tax returns and other financial documents to reassure the public, but Trump figures he doesn’t need such old-fashioned formalities. He’s led such a selfless and blameless life according to the strictest ethical standards, after all, and when he tells you he always puts America first he can look you right in the eye and say “that I can tell you, believe me, OK?”
The die-hard fans trust him, and surely only the most cynical and suspicious  sorts would dare to doubt him.

— Bud Norman

The Real Art of the Deal

For more than 40 years every major party presidential nominee released his tax returns to public scrutiny, but that’s another one of those venerable political traditions that President Donald Trump has flouted. There’s obviously something in Trump’s tax returns he’d rather you didn’t know about.
So far Trump is successfully flouting a Teapot Dome-era law that clearly states Congress can take a look at his returns, but the peskily intrepid reporters at The New York Times have come up with some rather embarrassing documents. The newspaper Trump always calls “the failing New York Times” couldn’t obtain Trump’s tax returns, but the president’s many business dealings over years have required that some of his tax information be released to various state and federal regulatory agencies and publicly-held companies and a public database, and the Gray Lady has succeeded in rounding up enough of it from 1985 to 1994 to infuriate the president.
The documents show that for eight of the ten years Trump paid no federal income tax at all, but he probably doesn’t mind you knowing that. During the 2016 presidential debates democratic nominee Hillary Clinton alleged that Trump had been dodging taxes, and Trump famously replied “That makes me smart.” Most of Trump’s supporters bought the argument that any self-made multi-billionaire who can get away without paying taxes is surely savvy enough to be president, and some even accepted his assurances that he would patriotically fix the tax system he knew so well to prevent any other super-rich rascal from getting away with it.
Trump’s much bragged-about tax bill was especially kind to multi-billionaires, however, and it turns out that the brilliant businessman’s ingenious method of avoiding taxes was losing millions of dollars year after year.
At the same time he was on top of the putatively non-fiction bestseller lists with the ghostwritten “Art of the Deal,” which earned him a reputation as history’s most skillful deal-maker, Trump was losing tens of millions on dollars on soon-to-bankrupt casinos and failed ventures into airlines and professional football and vodka and various other businesses. Over the 10 years the Times could find information about, Trump lost a total of $1.7 billion, and according to a database the Internal Revenue Service makes public some apparently legal reason he lost more money in that time than any other American.
For a while Trump did make millions of dollars by buying shares in troubled companies and spreading the word he was going to make a hostile take-over with his vastly overstated wealth, then cashing in on the brief bump in stock prices, which we have to admit is pretty clever, but the rest of the financial world is also pretty clever and eventually started calling Trump’s bluff. Trump has taken the same bold and blustery and debt-driven approach to governance, and so far it’s worked out well enough, but the rest of the word is pretty clever and is lately calling  Trump’s bluff.
Despite the booming economy Trump brags about the federal government is racking up another trillion dollars of debt every year, with much of it owed to China. Trump is currently waging a tough-guy trade war with China, which seems unimpressed with Trump’s negotiating skills, and the Dow Jones index that Trump likes to brag about dropped 473 points as a result. That great trade deal Trump negotiated with Canada and Mexico currently doesn’t have the votes to get ratified in Senate despite a slight Republican majority, and Trump hasn’t proved much of a dealmaker with Congress, even when the Republicans held both chambers, and especially now that the Democrats rule the House.
There’s no telling what Trump doesn’t want anyone to see in his subsequent tax returns, but when Congress or some pesky reporter or not-yet-born historian inevitably get a look we expect it will also look very bad. In the meantime, we’re trusting more in the genius of America’s mostly free economy and surviving constitutional institutions than we are in the genius of President Donald Trump.

— Bud Norman

A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with  just his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time,  Trump and his allies have been gloating about complete exoneration regarding everything they’ve ever been accused of. Alas, it’s starting to look like yet another case of Trump starting his end zone celebration a few yards short of the goal line.
Even the four-page summary of the nearly 400-page report on the investigation by Trump’s own Attorney General explicitly states that “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Now several of the investigators are telling The New York Times that the summary excluded evidence of actions by Trump and his associates that might not rise to the level of a indictable crime but are pretty embarrassing nonetheless, which seems not only plausible but downright probable to us.
The Democrats in Congress are naturally calling for the public to see the report in its entirety, and even as the Republicans claim the report utterly vindicates Trump they’re trying to keep the report under wraps. Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually prevail, either through court decisions or press leaks, and even if they don’t the Republicans will look bad for withholding information from the public. Perhaps the best argument for keeping the report secret is that it includes grand jury findings regarding investigations that are now ongoing in various state and federal jurisdictions, but that’s bound to come out eventually in some court or another, so the Republicans might as well start spinning it as no big deal right now.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee is requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, which he kept under wraps and will surely prove interesting, the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee is looking into why presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was granted a top secret security clearance despite the concerns of the national intelligence agencies about his business interests and personal conduct, and they’re both likely to get that information. Even if they don’t, Trump and the Republicans will once again be in the awkward position position of arguing that the public doesn’t have a right to know about a report they assure us exonerates them of everything..
There’s also an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York about Trump’s hush-money payments to a pornographic video performer and and a Playboy Playmate, which is already sending Trump’s longtime lawyer to prison and clearly identifies Trump as the un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual One.” It’s also a sure bet the pesky press will continue to come up with something or another about Trump’s private businesses and presidential administration that’s hard to explain. That four-page summary of a nearly four-hundred page report clearly excludes something that Trump doesn’t want the public to know about, so a certain suspicion should linger past the 2020 elections.
At this point we don’t have any rooting interest in either the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’d advise our once-Grand Old Party to go right ahead and let it all hang out. The damned Democrats are going to believe the worst about Trump in any case, and the damned Republicans don’t much care what laws Trump might have broken so long as he cuts taxes and appoints conservative Supreme Court Justices and otherwise upholds law and order. The Democrats will probably come up with someone who’s y crazy left yet squeaky-clean on taxes and foreign-business dealings and porn star dalliances and the campaign finance laws concerning such affairs.
How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t see it working out well for anyone in any case.

— Bud Norman

An A+ Plus Grade for Hypocrisy

Back when we spent most days bashing President Barack Obama, one of our criticisms was that he kept his academic records secret. Then-private citizen Donald Trump was similarly critical about it, and told the Associated Press back in 2011 that “I heard he was a terrible student — terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I’m thinking about it. Let him show his records.”
Now that we spend most days bashing President Trump, we feel obliged to note that Trump has also refused to release his academic records, and in fact has gone to  extraordinary lengths to keep them secret. His longtime lawyer recently testified to Congress that he was directed to send threatening letters to every school Trump had attended, and The Washington Post reports some wealthy Trump were seeking to remove the records from his military high school as early as 2011, when Trump was mulling a run for the presidency.
Many of the same people who were fine with Obama’s refusal to release his records are now outraged by Trump’s lack of transparency, and of course many Trump supporters who pilloried Obama’s stand are fine with Trump doing the same thing. We try to be more consistently principled, though, and we don’t like such secrecy now any more than we did then. To be frank — and we know how Trump’s fans love frankness — we think it’s probably worse this time around.
There was some speculation that Obama wanted his records kept secret because they showed he’d been the beneficiary of affirmative action admissions policies, which might well be true, but it would be more hypocrisy for Trump or any of his defenders to fault Obama for taking advantage of the system. Trump’s hearsay evidence that Obama was a terrible student seems improbable, given that Obama was listed on his commencement program as a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was elected editor of the prestigious law review by his peers. More conspiracy-minded types speculated the records would show he was listed as a foreign student, but no less an authority than Trump himself has now declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii — period.”
Obama must have had some motive to keep his records secret, but there’s no reason to believe it’s any more nefarious than Trump’s motive for doing the same. In Trump’s case, there’s also more reason to believe it was because he was a terrible student.
On the commencement program for Trump’s graduation from the University of Pennsylvania he’s one of the minority of students not listed as having earned honors, one of his professors at the school recalls him as “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” and none of Trump’s classmates or teachers are on record remembering his brilliance. The spelling and syntax and vocabulary of Trump’s “tweets” wouldn’t pass muster in a sixth grade English class, most sixth-graders are able to explain the causes of the Civil War that Trump still wonders about, and Trump’s knowledge of science and geography and mathematics seems just as limited. There’s no evidence that Trump was the excellent student he frequently to claims to have been except that he somehow got elected president, but Obama somehow got elected and then reelected with with bigger majorities than Trump in both the Electoral College and popular votes, yet Trump still wanted to see his records.
In an ideal democratic republic the voters would know everything about the candidates they’re voting for, from their school records to their latest medical checkup to their tax returns and financial dealings, but from now on presidents will likely  get away with keeping all of that a secret. The Democrats will gripe about is]t when a Republican is in office, the Republicans will hold their outrage for the next Democratic president, and we’ll be consistently principled and perpetually annoyed.

— Bud Norman

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

On The Latest Round of Rioting at UC-Berkeley

There was yet another riot at the University of California-Berkeley over the Easter Day weekend, and judging by the all cell phone video footage that quickly wound up on the internet it was a pretty nasty affair. Such unpleasantness on the campus was a staple of the evening news way back in our boyhood, and lately it seems to be another one of those annoying ’60s fads that is back in fashion again.
This time around the violence is somehow different, though, even if it does seem destined to end in the same desultory way. Last time around Berkeley became famous as the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement” that demanded free expression of an emerging New Left sensibility, but by now the New Left’s pony-tails have turned gray and its radical demands have become the status quo and the tie-dyed diaper baby grandchildren currently attending the university are famous for demanding speech codes and safe spaces from any sort of dissent. Those subsequent ’60s riots were a response to the Vietnam War, the wisdom of which remains debatable but undeniably involved more than 58,000 American fatalities and countless more casualties and was something you could at least understand somebody rioting about, but the previous riot at Berkeley was a response to a campus lecture by an inconsequential alt-right provocateur and self-described “faggot” named Milo Yiannapolous, which is something that most people would sensibly ignore.
Saturday’s riot happened during one of the many peaceable protests occurring around the country demanding that President Donald Trump publicly release his tax returns, which attracted one of the many counter-protests by supporters of the president, but even in Berkeley that wasn’t enough to cause a riot. So far as we can tell from all the cell phone video footage and some fine reporting by Esquire Magazine, of all places, it was the mix of black-masked self-described “anarchists” on the left and some self-described “white nationalist” types on the right that proved more combustible. The conditions for this happening are especially ripe at Berkeley, but hardly unique to that campus.
Most of the left eschews black masks and brown shirt tactics and anarchy, preferring their safe spaces and ’60s-era notions of non-violence, but they do have among them a troublesome number of people who are quite enthusiastic about all that. The vast majority of Trump’s most ardent supporters and pretty much all of the more reluctant ones have no use for white nationalism or its street-brawling ways, preferring law and order and old-fashioned notions about free speech, but by now there’s no denying they also some rather unsavory compatriots in their midst. You’ll find the extremists almost anywhere by now, and if you throw in the complex issues of race and class that you’ll find almost anywhere there’s reason to worry that Saturday’s riots could happen just a neighborhood away from anybody.
In both the distant and recent past we’ve faulted much of the left for making excuses for the more egregious behavior on its side, and been proud of the principled conservatives who took pains to distance themselves from those hippie-bashing hardhats and newfangled white nationalists who claimed the mantle of conservatism, but these days we have to admit that the Republican president did promise to pay the legal bills of anyone at his rallies who punched a protestor and openly longed for the good old days when they’d be carried out in a stretcher. Even the most peaceable sorts on both the left and right can get pretty confrontational in the comments section of any internet news site these days, all the panel discussions on all of the cable news networks seem more a verbal riot than a real debate, and even in the Senate it took the “nuclear option” to get a quite reasonable and even rather boring nominee confirmed to the Supreme Court.
We’re old enough to remember the ’60s, though, and can console ourselves that the country somehow stumbled its way through that tumultuous decade of far more violent and arguably more reasonable riots. The country had to stumble through the ’70s and all the rest of it to get to his damnable moment in time, where both the left and right seem to have jettisoned notions of free speech and full disclosure, and neither is willing budge an inch enough to disavow for their most unsavory compatriots, but for now it’s just a bunch of crazies pushing around trash dumpsters and duking it out on the always-crazy streets of Berkeley. The cell phone footage makes it look something from the last days of the Weimar Republic, but if they’d had cell phone cameras back then, and everyone could see hot very ridiculous it looked, perhaps it wouldn’t have ended so badly.

— Bud Norman

The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

An Election Year Impervious to Bad Press

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has been getting a lot of bad press lately, even by Republican president nominee standards, and by now it’s almost to a point where even such avid news readers as ourselves can hardly keep up. The bad press doesn’t seem to be having the the same effect it had on Republican presidential nominees in past election years, however, so it remains to be seen if the latest spate of stories will do any lasting damage.
The most recent round of stories have concerned many of the cast and crew and production staff of Trump’s long-running and highly-rated reality show “The Apprentice” testifying to his vulgar and sexist behavior, but at this late date in the race his vulgarity and sexism are already old news.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has by now spent millions airing aids that include the audio and video and print interviews where the thrice-married and boastfully adulterous former strip club owner has disparaged women’s appearances, joked about how you have to “treat ’em like “s**t,” and laughingly admitted he had no respect for women, among numerous other objectionable statements. With sources ranging from his appearances on Howard Stern’s shock jock to his time on Republican presidential debate stages, the record of vulgarity and sexism is hard for even his most fervent supporters to deny. Just four years ago the press was able to use an inadvertent and inoffensive allusion to “binders full of women” to convince much of the public that such a gentlemanly sort as Mitt Romney was an incorrigible sexist, even though he was perusing those binders to find qualified women for state government positions while he was governor of Massachusetts, but this time around they’re somehow finding it harder to stoke the same outrage.
Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters seem to relish the vulgarity and sexism, his more reluctant supporters can rightly note that Clinton’s husband is similarly vulgar and sexist and has always enjoyed her ruthless support, and even the most vaguely informed and still undecided are well aware that the Democrats and their press allies always say the Republican presidential nominee is vulgar and sexist. Trump was already polling poorly among women in general and most worrisomely song college-educated Republican women in particular, so his on-the-record rants have had some effect, but the added testimonials of some reality show co-stars seem unlikely to exacerbate the damage.
Just four years ago Democratic minority leader Sen. Harry Reid was able to harm the electoral chances of the scrupulously honest Romney’s reputation by flat-out lying that the Republican nominee had paid no income taxes for a couple of years, but this time around Trump will likely be unscathed by his apparent boasts that he’s been dodging a tax bill for a couple of decades. The flap started in the first presidential debate when Clinton was making the predictable arguments Trump being the first nominee from either party in the past 40 years who hasn’t divulged his tax records, and speculating that one reason might be that it would reveal he’s paid no taxes despite his much boasted-about wealth, to which Trump responded “that makes me smart.” Since then The New York Times has been reporting that leaked income tax information reveals Trump reported a $915 million loss back in ’95, which entitled him to 18 tax free years according to the convoluted tax code, and happily implied that Trump had taken full advantage of the opportunity. Trump hasn’t denied either the factual truth or implied speculations of the story, and instead has bragged further about his savvy understanding of the convoluted tax code, so we’ll leave the reader to draw his own conclusions about the veracity of The Times’ reporting and implications.
This time around, though, we don’t expect the truth will do so manage as the lies did the last time around. No one in America pays a penny more in taxes than that convoluted tax code requires, not Hillary Clinton or The New York Times or any of its reporters or even such self-righteously disgruntled Republicans as ourselves, so we can’t imagine any vaguely informed and still undecided voters holding it against him if he kept all his ill-begotten earnings to himself.
Trump is even claiming he had a fiduciary duty to his stock holders and employees and creditors to do so, and although we can’t think of any reason they should care what he paid on his personal taxes, and can more easily imagined why they’re probably more peeved about all the bills he’s shorted them on, so we don’t expect any vaguely informed and still undecideds will stop to think about that at all. He’s also claiming that such a shrewd fellow as himself understands that convoluted tax code better than anyone else, and how it’s used by greedy billionaires such as himself to dodge their fair share of the burden and shift it onto such suckers as yourself, which does have a certain populist appeal, even if his current tax plan does nothing to stop it and none of his ever-shifting opinions on the topic have once proposed a fairer solution. Still, we doubt the vaguely informed and still undecided will notice any of that, while Trump’s more reluctant supporters will glumly and rightly protest that Clinton and her perv husband once took a write-off on the underwear they donated to charity and are just as bad, as they are in all things, and we can’t see the poll number nudging in either direction as a result of this big story. There remains the presently undisputed fact that Trump somehow managed to lose $916 million in a single year, which in past years would have called into question his constant boasts about bringing his remarkable business acumen to at long last saving our deep-in-debt federal government, but this time around The New York Times has buried that tidbit six column inches under the lead paragraph, and Trump’s more reluctant supporters can rightly note how very suspiciously rich Clinton has become in the public service sector.
The Washington Post is gleefully reporting that the New York Attorney General has now shut down Trump’s charitable foundation, which has been the subject of at least three scandals they’ve already reported involving tax-dodging and and personal profit and no contributions for many years from the eponymous philanthropist, but the vaguely informed and still undecided probably won’t read about it, and if they do their reluctant Trump supporter friends can glumly and quite rightly recite all the scandals about Clinton’s phony-baloney pay-to-play “family foundation,” which they’ll have to glumly admit Trump once financially supported. It’s tawdry stuff, all around, but once again unlikely to nudge the polls in either direction.
There’s so much more going on that even such avid news readers as ourselves are hard-pressed to keep up with it, but the benefit of the more vaguely informed and still undecided among you the gist of it seems to be that both Trump and Clinton are every bit as awful as you already knew from the past few decades of occasionally paying attention. It’s enough to make us nostalgic for the last time around, when the press had to work hard to suggest that the Republican nominee was a vulgar sexist and the Democrats had to flat-out lie that he was a tax-dodger and neither candidate was making an issue of the other’s blissfully boring sex life.

— Bud Norman

Mitt Romney’s Taxes

Anyone who was planning to vote against Mitt Romney because he’s greedy and won’t release his tax returns should take note that he has now released yet another year of returns and that they reveal he’s an extraordinarily generous man who has given away a large chunk of his wealth. He’s not nearly so generous with his money as Barack Obama, who would selflessly redistribute every last penny of Romney’s wealth, but it’s a remarkable record of philanthropy nonetheless.

The more egalitarian types will be appalled that Romney made $13.7 million last year, and further appalled that the mere $1.94 million he paid in federal income taxes was only 14.1 percent of it, but those who read further into the stories about it should grudgingly acknowledge that the more than $4 million that he donated to various charities is a right neighborly gesture. Also worth noting, although buried toward the bottom of most reports, is that Romney actually paid more taxes than he was legally required to because he did not claim a deduction on most of his charitable giving. This is in stark contrast to the famously empathetic Bill Clinton, who was so meticulous in his tax preparations that he even deducted the value of the used underwear he donated to some charity that deals in such items.

Still, Romney probably didn’t pay enough to satisfy the cravings of his critics, most of whom will require several lifetimes in order to contribute $1.94 million to the government’s operations. They’ll note that most of the money Romney made was derived from capital gains on his many shrewd investments, and complain that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than other income. The historical fact that a higher capital gains rate results in less economic activity that employs people and thus results in less money for the government will be overruled by their peculiar notion of fairness.

Critics will further quibble that Romney hasn’t provided 20 years of tax returns, which for no particular reason is the new standard of financial candor, but Romney has provided that information to the Price Waterhouse Coopers firm and they stake their valuable reputation on a report that he has paid 38.49 percent of his adjusted gross income to the federal government. This amounts to many millions of dollars, and although that might not be enough to satisfy the covetousness of the modern egalitarian is certain proves that Sen. Harry Reid was peddling a slanderous lie when he took to the Senate floor to allege that Romney had paid no income taxes at all.

Other people’s income tax filings don’t have the voyeuristic appeal for us that they seem to have for other folks, but what we’ve gleaned from Romney’s forms make us think that he’s not such a bad fellow after all.

— Bud Norman