March 15, 2017

Not since Wile E. Coyote got his first Acme catalog has anything blown up in someone’s face worse than Rachel Maddow’s big “scoop” on President Trump’s tax form.

Last night, MSNBC spent hours running breathless promos about having obtained the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax form, teasing out the big reveal on Maddow’s show. Then, an hour before show time, Trump showed why he is the master of Internet trolling by releasing the form himself. It destroyed two Democratic false narratives at once: that he really isn’t that successful (his personal income was around $150 million that year) and that he paid zero taxes (he paid $38 million in federal income taxes alone). Even attempts to attack him for paying only a 25% tax rate fell flat when it was noted that he paid a higher rate than Obama (19%) and nearly twice that of “socialist” Bernie Sanders (13%). And he actually pays his taxes, unlike the nine MSNBC personalities who (as reported by Heat Street) had tax liens against them, some of them massive).

It also gave Trump a spotlight in which to point out that he paid as little taxes as legally possible (like every smart working person) but still sent a yuuuge pile of money to Washington. And to hammer home that tax forms are private and personal, and the leaking of any citizen’s tax form is a crime. It was also a reminder of just how intrusive the income tax code is and how untrustworthy the government is at keeping our private information private. Note to Trump: the solution to that is the Fair Tax.

Trump’s move so yanked the rug out from under MSNBC that Maddow was reduced to combing through the form, as one wag put it, “searching for a pony in all the horse droppings.” Once again, MSNBC’s programming had all the heart-stopping excitement of watching somebody go over someone else’s 12-year-old tax forms for an hour. The best the network's professional anti-Trumpers could come up with was to make vague innuendoes about him selling his house to a Russian “oligarch” for more than he paid for it. So maybe he’s an agent of RUSSIA! Or maybe he’s really good at real estate deals.

In the end, Trump came out winning so hard that hostile liberal outlets had to try distracting the public from the egg on their faces by concocting a new conspiracy theory: that Trump might have leaked the tax form to MSNBC himself to deliberately make them look bad. Granted, he surely knew they would scurry after any hint of a Trump scandal as mindlessly as a dog chases a firefly, but MSNBC hardly needs his help to look like partisan loons.

While we're on this subject, I’ve long advocated that no politician should release his or her personal tax forms. I won’t give you the full speech, but here are the bullet points:

1. Do you really think if somebody is up to something shady, he’s going to put it on a form he hands to the IRS?

2. One reason voters replaced Maddow-like liberals with Trump is because we’re sick of a tax code that’s so complicated, nobody understands it (including the IRS) so nobody can do his own taxes. Even if you find something to question on Trump’s tax form, do you really think he put it there while sweating over hundreds of forms at Mar-A-Lago on April 15th and trying to get through to the H&R Block hotline? His full tax form is as long as the Obamacare bill and prepared by a platoon of accountants. I doubt he even reads it. He just signs it and sends a check. This is why every politician’s financial disclosure statement is much more meaningful than his or her tax returns.

3. No matter how honest and scrupulous you try to be, tax forms are so convoluted that a political opponent will still pull something completely out of context and wave it around while shouting, “A-HA!” (See the house sale bit above.) This happened to me once in Arkansas when I said, “Sure, go ahead and release my taxes. I have nothing to hide.” And I didn’t. It didn’t stop the Democrats from claiming I did anyway. Why make it easier for your opponents to slander you?

4. Finally, and most importantly: Income tax forms are private and nobody else’s business. It’s outrageous that the federal government demands that Americans explain every penny we make and justify every cent we spend. But now we know what a bang-up job the IRS does of keeping that data private and not abusing it.

Leaking any American’s tax forms, be it a President’s or a coal miner’s or a Tea Party organizer’s, is an outrageous violation of privacy and a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5000 and five years in prison. I hope whoever leaked Trump’s taxes gets a chance to learn about that firsthand. And yes, I would say the same thing if it were Hillary Clinton’s tax form, although I’m sure she paid far less in taxes than Donald Trump.

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  • Jean Phelan

    04/17/2017 01:18 PM

    If Trump pays his taxes, why was he so quick to brag he doesn't because he is so much smarter than the rest of us?