2018 Midterms

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President Trump's Wealth and Taxes
Oct 9, 2018 at 01:39 PM
Photo by Bin im Garten

The Quick Facts

  • Last week, The New York Times released a lengthy, detailed report about the wealth and fortune of President Trump.
  • The article reports that the president received at least $413 million from his father Fred Trump over the decades, and that much of it came by exploiting various tax loopholes or engaging in outright fraud.
  • The Times says its report is based on over 100,000 pages of financial documents, which show that the president and his father used a sham corporation to avoid paying estate and gift taxes.
  • One of President Trump’s lawyers, Charles J. Harder, has stated that there was no “fraud or tax evasion” and that the facts cited in the report are “extremely inaccurate.” The White House has similarly dismissed the report, calling it “a misleading attack against the Trump family.”
  • The New York state tax department has said that it is reviewing the allegations made in the report, although the tax experts cited in the story say statutes of limitation would likely prevent any criminal prosecution.

Food For Thought

What is the significance of the Times report on President Trump's wealth and taxes? Should there be consequences?

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Chicago Tribune

Looking at Trump's tax returns is only the first step

Catherine Rampell
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Our Commentary

This opinion from Catherine Rampell in the Chicago Tribune makes these kinds of points:

  • The New York Times' report on President Trump's taxes surprised no one. For a while now, we've all suspected that Donald Trump built his fortune by "choosing the right parents and dodging the Internal Revenue Service."
  • Even though the report isn't shocking, it still demands action. Obviously, we must demand to see Trump's tax returns. Then, we must "adequately fund the IRS", and make our tax laws "fairer, clearer, and less susceptible to exploitation."
  • Some of the worst tax loopholes involve real estate. The grantor-retained annuity trust instrument, which allows wealthy citizens to make large financial gifts to family members without paying a U.S. gift tax, is particularly egregious. Unfortunately, rather than addressing these real estate loopholes, Trump's tax bill has made it even easier for the wealthy to exploit these loopholes.

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The Charlotte Observer

Donald Trump is probably a tax crook. The response to it might be worse.

Editorial Board
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Our Commentary

The Charlotte Observer's Editorial Board makes these kinds of arguments:

  • The New York Times' investigation into President Trump's taxes was a bombshell. The report made it clear that Trump is "a tax cheat" and "in all likelihood defrauded the government he currently leads."
  • Rather than forcefully fighting the allegations, President Trump just called the report "boring". Unfortunately, it seems like American citizens agree with him. Our indifference to this report is "the most alarming news of all".
  • As a nation, it's sadly becoming acceptable to "avert our glance to what was unacceptable." We've made a decision to lower our expectations of elected officials in order to score partisan points and legislative wins. This is the real tragedy.

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The Wall Street Journal

Dogs Bite Men and Trumps Duck Taxes

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
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Our Commentary

In this opinion article from The Wall Street Journal, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. makes these types of arguments:

  • It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Donald Trump received help from his father to build his business empire. The Times report buried the story's most interesting angle: the “astonishing degree to which father Fred Trump patiently financed and strategically connived in the creation of what the paper calls the ‘Donald Trump myth.’”
  • As for the tax loopholes that may have been exploited by the Trump family, these are fairly common-place actions: “nobody in their right mind” from certain socio-economic brackets pays the “punitive federal estate tax.” The IRS code was written to allow the wealthy to avoid it.
  • The problem with the journalistic endeavor behind the Times tax report was that it devoted most its energy into using information to discredit President Trump rather than report information for its own sake. The Times sacrificed the story's most intriguing angles in order to “continue to treat Mr. Trump’s election as a terrible accident that never should have been allowed to happen.”

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RealClear Markets

Sorry New York Times, Donald Trump Is Self-Made

Our Commentary

This commentary by John Tamny from RealClear Markets offers these kinds of opinions:

  • The conclusion the New York Times drew from its detailed report on President Trump’s wealth was that he is not a self-made man, but the reality of being born in the United States is that “compared to much of the rest of the world, none of us are self-made.”
  • There is actually a lot of truth in President Trump’s narrative that he built his empire himself. Though undoubtedly wealthy, his father Fred Trump was relatively unknown; Donald Trump is the one who got his name on skyscrapers in the most prominent city in the world, all the while building it into a brand so powerful it propelled him to the White House.
  • Donald Trump is indeed self-made, by “any reasonable standard.”  This is further evidenced by Trump’s place on the Forbes 400: he is an “exceedingly unique” member of the list, because he both inherited wealth and then put that wealth “to work in the building of a brand that is global in scope.”

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