On Sunday night, the New York Times reported that for most of the last 20 years, Donald Trump paid little in the way of income tax. In 2016, he paid only $750. In 2017, he paid the same. Many years, as the review of his taxes show, Trump’s losses far outweighed his income.
The president’s allies have already sprung into action. It’s “tax avoidance”, not tax evasion, of course. They claim Trump’s maneuvers are legal and the kind of thing any smart person would do if they were able. Trump says the detailed report is “fake”.
None of this is a surprise, of course.
Given that Trump is the same man who bankrupted two Atlantic City casinos, launched a short-lived airline and was recently charged with fraud surrounding his “Trump University”, the president’s finances have consistently been an adventure in accounting. His status and wealth are crucial to his public image. He sold the American people on the folly that he was a successful businessman who could engineer an American resurgence. Much like everything involving Donald Trump, this was pure fiction, a con, that is unraveling before our very eyes.
When he was a reality television star running his own family company, Trump’s gymnastic finances were problems of his own making and the headache of his staff, workers and bankers. As president, how Trump makes and spends his money is indicative of his personal taste (such as it is) and his willingness to use the office for personal enrichment.
His debts, though, are far more concerning.
The New York Times report reveals that Trump is leveraged to the tune of more than $400m, much of it personally guaranteed. Most reputable lending institutions would require significant collateral to extend that kind of credit. Who then, would be willing to lend so much money to such a high-risk client?
We don’t know that answer, of course. It does raise the legitimate question, though: to whom does the president of the United States owe so much money, and what are they willing to do to ensure repayment? Especially when you consider that he has hundreds of millions of dollars in loans due for collection in the next four years. If he is unable to pay them back, what would these lenders be willing to accept in kind as payment for unpaid debts from the man who hopes to continue being the leader of the free world?
Anyone applying for a “position of national security” with the US government must fill out an exhaustive document, the SF-86, before beginning work. Aside from the usual questions about past criminal behavior or drug use, are questions related to the applicant’s personal finances. Difficulties with money have long been among the quickest routes to blackmail and coercion for foreign intelligence services.
More than Trump’s own well-documented issues with money, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner has previously found himself in a similar situation. The Kushner Company’s 666 Park Avenue project had been a black hole of cash for years until a sovereign wealth fund made a substantial investment in the property (after Kushner was already serving as Trump’s top adviser in the White House).
Add that to this month’s report from the Senate intelligence committee that confirmed the 2016 Trump campaign’s interactions with agents of Russian intelligence and the president’s financial woes become that much more concerning for all Americans.
It’s likely at this point that Trump cannot afford to be president. Though his companies generate some revenue, they won’t make him the kind of money he needs to climb out of debt. Even his hotel just across the street from the White House can’t fill all the holes. His golf courses, according to the Times, are money pits.
For Trump, the presidency has always been performative. Standing behind the podium, before adoring crowds – that is what Trump lives for. The actual business of the job holds little interest for him. Now that the world knows for sure he’s consistently teetering on the brink of financial ruin, it’s not hard to believe that he will focus even less on being president and more on shoring up his personal empire.
And that, unfortunately, means that the American people will once again take a distant back seat to Trump’s personal concerns and needs. While Americans continue to get sick, thousands more die every week and our way of life is ruined, Trump will do what he always does: put himself at the head of the line.