Taxing times

Donald Trump’s favorite scapegoats are paying more federal taxes than he is

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This week, the speculation over Trump’s financial status and slippery tax history may have finally been corroborated with the release of several pages of the Republican nominee’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times. So far, the documents appear to be genuine, and they’ve led to exactly the unsavory implications we’ve been waiting for, both about the candidate and the tax code loopholes that invite the wealthy to avoid paying their share. It’s quite probable that Trump, self-made American billionaire, hasn’t paid a single cent in federal income tax since the mid-’90s.

Donald Trump is fond of targeting people, both citizens and undocumented immigrants, he considers to be abusing America’s welfare system and taking benefits without paying dues. So, by way of rebuttal, here’s a short list that uses a simple metric (taxes) to take a look at the people who have given back to their country more than the Republican nominee.


Last year, Trump claimed undocumented immigrants were getting $4.2 billion in tax credits, a statement Politifact subsequently found to be fairly misleading—as the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has said, the government may have been giving tax credits based on the children of the undocumented, but it was still taking in more money from tax revenue than it was shelling out in credits. Undocumented immigrants pay significant chunks of state and local taxes—as much as $11.64 billion a year, according to some estimates. But studies have also suggested that between 50% and 75% are on the books, using fake SSNs or tax identification numbers—which means they contribute to state and federal tax coffers while being ineligible both for EITCs and the federal programs those tax dollars fund.

These trends don’t alter much for the children of undocumented immigrants or those who do eventually naturalize. A few years ago, the National Research Council reported that the average naturalized immigrant and their children will pay between $20,000 and $80,000 more in taxes over their lifetime than they will receive in any kind of benefit—local, state, or federal.

Retired veterans

Earlier this year, Trump publicly slammed the Khan family, the parents of a Muslim veteran killed by an IED in Iraq, after they spoke out against his so-called immigration policy during the DNC. Subsequently, his relationship to the military has been fraught, to say the least, though he has been endorsed by a number of retired generals: he’s referred to PTSD as the affliction of the weak and compared his parentally mandated stint in military school to something like actual conscription.

The tax codes for military veterans, depending on their length of service and the status of their health, can vary wildly; if a service member is deemed significantly wounded by the Veteran’s Administration, their disability pay may not be subject to certain federal or local taxes. (One would imagine it’s the least we could do, considering what we put them through.) For veterans who are not disabled, however, military pensions are subject to the same federal taxes as anyone else—which means in addition to their very real and physical sacrifices in war, they’re paying more to the government than the Republican nominee.

Single people making $15,000 a year

There’s a long and heavily partisan precedent for demonizing the working poor; Trump, of course, has never held back. In 2011, in response to a comment from Obama on the importance of welfare, he took it to Fox News. “You do have a problem because half of the people don’t pay any tax,” he said, predicting Mitt Romney’s poisonous comments about the 47 percent. “He’s talking about people that aren’t also working, that are not contributing to this society.”

The Earned Income Tax Credit, created in the ‘70s as a temporary measure to offset payroll tax and skyrocketing food and energy costs, is still offered four decades later for lower-income populations and the working poor. To date, Trump’s campaign hasn’t proposed a change to the EITC’s thresholds, which much like the federal poverty line feel reflexively inadequate when it comes to addressing the cost of living in America today. For example: For a single, childless person to qualify for an EITC, they must make less than $14,820, meaning a person making $15,000—40 hour weeks at the federal minimum wage—wouldn’t make the cut. Besides, most studies show that the vast majority of EITC recipients only require the credit for one or two years, a statistic directly in opposition to the idea of a decades-long free ride.

Native Americans

“Organized crime is rampant on Indian reservations,” Donald Trump said in 1993, during a federal suit in which he attempted to ban the construction of casinos in New Jersey. The suit alleged that, in essence, the law favored First Nations in Atlantic City as the gaming laws favored a “limited class of citizens.”

Native American tribes and the tribal corporations they own may be tax exempt, but that doesn’t mean individuals are; the income generated by a tribal business, distributed to an individual member of a tribe, is subject to federal taxation. So while First Nations may operate tribal governance and pay no income tax for the land trusts on which they live, they still pay more dues to the U.S. government than Donald Trump—despite, you know, having been violently purged from their homeland and systematically disenfranchised by the very government they pay.

But perhaps it’s repetitive to point to such blatant shows of disrespect—this is, after all, the candidate who said during a presidential debate his ability to evade paying taxes was “smart,” and who when the documents leaked issues a statement equating being crooked and sloppy with being deft.

“Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for President,” read the official statement. “And he is the only one that knows how to fix it.”

Watch: The Real Danger of a Donald Trump Presidency