In 2016 and 2017, the year self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump won the US presidential election and his first year in office, he filed $750 in income tax returns. In 2017, he or his businesses paid $1,45,400 in taxes in India. Under normal circumstances, or at least before 2016, the real worry for a US president would be about the repercussions of possible charges of being a tax evader. In the Trump era, though, it’s all about image.
The New York Times report on Trump’s taxes over two decades has suggested that he has, like many of the rich, used every loophole in the law to pay less than most working-class families do to the government. But, more importantly, it suggests that Trump is a terrible businessman and his much-touted Art of the Deal has all the honesty of a drunken boast in a bar full of strangers. For Trump, who has carefully cultivated and campaigned on a reputation of being a ruthless, successful businessman — arguing even that his personal wealth means that he is free from lobbyists’ influence — the NYT revelations are more than just a political blow in an election year. They hit at the heart of Trumpism — his braggadocio. What if the man with golden furniture and his name on buildings is broke?
For some in India, there is some petty satisfaction to be had in all this, a small sense of schadenfreude. In his political speeches, Trump insisted that it was by great cunning and even trickery that India had set the terms of trade with the US. And that Trump was the president who would make sure that the money owed to the US did not flow overseas. Turns out, he’s been paying us all along.
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