Trump is a Hoax, Fake News

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Donald Trump finally collided with something bigger than he thinks he is: the IRS.

The self-identified billionaire’s mere $750 federal tax payments in 2016 and 2017, his tax avoidance schemes, his mishandling of the pandemic plus his ugly aggressive performance debate performance could cost him his re-election.

Trump’s rival for the presidency, Joe Biden, revealed hours before Tuesday night’s so-called debate that he paid $288,000 in federal taxes in 2019. And his running mate, Kamala Harris, released her tax returns.

As The New York Times put it in its blockbuster report based on documents detailing the president’s more than 20 years of federal tax returns, “Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.”

In short, Trump is what he calls everything he doesn’t like: a hoax and a fake. The report totally undermined Trump’s self-created image as a successful businessman.

In the unprecedented debacle of what was supposed to be the first of three presidential debates that an outrageous bullying Trump escalated into a verbal bar brawl, an irreverent, fuming president said only that he had “paid millions of dollars” in taxes when moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked if he had paid $750 for two years. Denial.

Trump’s repeated interruptions of both Biden and Wallace, who at times completely lost control of the proceedings, descended into chaos to such an extent that the former vice president couldn’t get in a word edgewise. He told Trump at one point, “Will you shut up, man.”

“It’s hard to get in a word in with this clown,” Biden, who somehow held it all together, said at another point. And at yet another, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” Polls show Trump losing suburban women who voted for him in 2016.

Trump, shouting and red-faced, was so aggressive, so unruly, so violent in a totally irresponsible attack mode that it would not be surprising if Biden canceled the remaining two debates. And rightfully so. Trump is a dangerous man and won’t take losing the election gracefully.

That horrible display of anger and hostility was the real Trump unleashed for the world to see. It was frightening.

He refused to condemn white supremacy and served notice to the extremist right-wing Proud Boys to “Stand back and stand by.” Stand by to ready, aim and fire to ensure his re-election? The chaotic debate is likely to foreshadow what’s to come Nov. 3.

In its report, the Times said the president is $421 million in debt and is losing more than $315 million on his golf courses “that he often describes as the heart of his empire,” much of the total at his Miami area resort, the Trump National Doral. The Washington hotel that opened in 2012 has lost more than $55 million, it said.

The revelation, stunning in the breadth of information about how Trump avoided paying taxes compared to millions of dollars in tax payments paid by millionaires, first appeared online Sunday evening. It showed him up as a fraud.

He never was self-made. He was man-made, first by his father then by TV and “The Apprentice” that ran for 11 seasons and by Madison Avenue. Let us not forget his six casino bankruptcies. And he had the temerity to pass himself off as a successful billionaire and to publish a ghost-written book called “The Art of the Deal?”

A report about a very wealthy someone who didn’t pay taxes for 11 of 18 years would be a curiosity if he were a private citizen. But this is the president of the United States. And he’s running for a second term. Who would trust him to be in the Oval Office again, his finger on the nuclear button? Who would trust him now? Only his cult followers and his cowardly Republican enablers.

His supporters know he’s a cheat and a liar (more than 20,000 lies or misleading statements since he took office, according to The Washington Post). The best way for Trump to support his initial claim that the Times report is “fake news” is to release his tax returns. He won’t, of course. And now we all know why he has been the first president since Richard Nixon to withhold them.

And he’ll spin the disclosures as legal “smart” moves, as he did during his debate in 2016 with his then-opponent for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, whom he stalked like a predator around the stage.

What the documents about the tax returns couldn’t reveal to the Times was whether he was or is in debt to other countries. But licensing deals provided him with “$3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey,” the Times said. All three are run by autocrats, Trump’s kind of people.

“The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia,” the Times noted.

What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned that as well.

“This president appears to have over $400 million in debt, 420, whatever it is,” she said on MSNBC Monday. “To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have?  So, for me, this is a national security question.”

Of the $421 million, $300 million is reported to be paid within four years, well within a second presidential term for Trump, if he gets it.

That IRS audit begun in 2011 that the president keeps telling us prevents him from releasing his taxes (the IRS has said the audit doesn’t stand in the way) involves a $72.9 million refund the Times said “may be related to the failure of his Atlantic City casinos.”

But federal law says investors may claim a total loss on an investment, the Times said, but only if they get nothing in return. But, it said, Trump did receive something in return: “5 percent of the new casino company that formed when he renounced his stake.”

The case could wind up in federal court and, if Trump loses, he could be responsible for paying that plus interest that could total more than $100 million, the Times reported. The question arises: What has taken the IRS so long to finish the audit?

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s . . .”

–Attributed to Jesus

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.