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President Donald Trump either cheated on his taxes or is a failure as a businessperson — maybe both.
But the revelations in the New York Times expose on Trump’s tax returns are hardly shocking.
Now we know that he failed to pay any federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years, and for two years he paid just $750 — a pitiful amount for a person who lives such an extravagant lifestyle.
Earlier reporting by the New York Times had shown that Trump and his family used questionable business practices and deception to benefit themselves and that far from being a self-made success story, Trump rode the coattails of his father to great wealth.
There’s a reason that Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking a norm of political activity that includes presidential candidates and candidates for public office at just about every level.
No matter how damaging keeping the secret might be, the truth — it’s clear now — would be worse.
But we knew that, right? Even the most diehard, forever Trump supporter had to know that he was keeping his financial records secret because releasing them would cause damage to his reputation and aspirations.
The president is shameless, and perhaps there’s someone out there eating in a diner in the “real America” who will hear the story about Trump and his failure to pay taxes and decide that this — finally — is the last straw and they can no longer vote for him.
But I doubt it.
The president has lied and mishandled a global pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and more than a 1 million people worldwide. It’s on tape. There’s no denying it.
He’s devoted time and energy to actively trying to take health care away from millions of Americans, including those covered by Medicaid, with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
He’s started trade wars that hurt the interests of some of his strongest supporters.
He’s made misleading statements more than 20,000 times — and been caught.
And stood by unmoved as millions of Americans have lost their jobs during the spread of COVID-19.
If you’re not moved to oppose Trump based on any of that, and a whole lot more, I don’t see how you react to the news about the president and his taxes with anything more than a shoulder shrug.
But here’s the silver lining. President Trump won the presidency despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. And he’s done little to expand his base, in Maine or nationally.
Polling from Maine shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a healthy lead statewide and virtually tied in Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won handily in 2016.
I would like to think that the truth and new information about Trump misdeeds previously unknown would sway some voters away from the president — that some small number of his supporters would move if they just saw the truth.
But the evidence for that isn’t apparent.
At a campaign stop in 2016, Trump said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
It turns out that might have been one of the few honest things he’s said.
The big story tax story this week, the big debate this week, the big story to come or the outrageous act yet to be uncorked — it’s hard to see how any of it makes a difference.
The good news, though, is a majority of Americans already see Trump for who he is (just like they did in 2016). If they turn out and vote in large numbers, that will be enough.
And maybe, just maybe, we can get back to a place where reality matters and failing to pay taxes is a big deal for a politician.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland.