Trickle-down exaggeration

18 May 2016 By Richard Beales

Donald Trump keeps tearing up the political playbook. The White House wannabe filed fresh documents on Tuesday proclaiming he’s worth over $10 billion and hiked his self-declared annual income to $557 million. Trump’s braggadocio is characteristically counterintuitive.

The reality-TV star and likely Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency was positively gleeful boasting that his 104-page submission to the Federal Election Commission was the biggest ever. For good measure, he noted he had filed on time like “a businessman” while Democrat “politician” Bernie Sanders had asked for an extension for his “small report.”

Trump’s worth and income, even if inflated by any normal methods of accounting, in some ways should trouble voters. Seven years of slow but steady economic recovery have left many stuck in the middle and at the bottom of the income ladder, while rich asset-owners have done very nicely in no small part because of low interest rates. A reaction to rising inequality is supposed to be part of the appeal of anti-establishment candidates like Trump, so emphasizing – and probably overemphasizing – his position in the wealthiest stratum of society might logically weaken his appeal.

So far, though, it hasn’t hurt his candidacy, and neither has his refusal to release his annual tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service, even though doing so has been standard practice for all presidential candidates from major parties since the late 1970s, according to factcheck.org.

Trump told the Associated Press that “there’s nothing to learn” from his returns. For someone with such sprawling corporate affairs, however, that’s plainly untrue. His official level of income and the rate of tax he pays, for starters, are highly relevant for someone eager to reform the U.S. tax system and close loopholes, including those “available to the very rich.”

Running as the anti-politician is resonating with Trump’s supporters. Most of them probably won’t look too closely at his list of business interests, including those in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Last December, he called for a ban on all Muslims visiting the United States.

The complexity demands scrutiny, just as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s lucrative speeches on Wall Street and beyond do. For now, though, Trump is managing to puff up his riches and simultaneously attract Americans who are fretting about their jobs and an expanding wealth gap. Like his finances, it’s hard to figure.

 

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