by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
David French of National Review is no fan of Donald Trump. (French was recruited to run against Trump once it was clear the New York billionaire had beaten the rest of the Republican presidential competition.) Yet French comes to Trump’s defense on at least one topic: taking tax breaks.
Every spring, millions of progressive households join with their conservative neighbors and busily get to work doing the exact same thing. They open TurboTax, take documents to an accountant, or sit down with pencil and paper at the kitchen table to figure out how to pay the smallest amount of taxes possible. Sure, they may have disagreed on what tax rates should be or whether certain deductions should exist, but after the rules are set, both sides apply them, work diligently to minimize their tax liability, and celebrate when the refund is larger than expected.
In all my years on this planet, speaking to friends and family members on the left and right, I have never — not once — heard anyone say, “You know, I could have taken that business-expense deduction, but I decided the troops needed the cash more than me.” Yet to read Twitter, one would think Donald Trump is a monster for (apparently) using legal tax breaks to offset future earnings.
According to leaked documents obtained by the New York Times, Trump took an immense loss in 1995 — an amount totaling nearly $916 million. The paper then notes that this amount would be enough to allow Trump to pay no income tax even if he made $50 million per year for the next 18 years. The Trump campaign didn’t deny the fundamental facts of the story, and the commentariat was off to the races — hashtags and all.
Since this is 2016, it was hard to find rational discourse. Trump defenders proclaiming his “genius” were cleverly eliding his catastrophic losses. Indeed, Trump had endured massive financial setbacks, and he had himself primarily to blame. Yet his attackers were almost certainly hypocrites. How many of them have skipped standard available deductions for the purported good of the commonwealth? Yes, the tax code is complicated, and, yes, it is intentionally crafted to provide benefits to particular classes of business, but that’s simply progressive wonkery in action. Technocrats are constantly fiddling with the code to incentivize or discourage certain kinds of business activity.