trump taxes 916 million loss explainer
How Trump could have avoided taxes on $916 million
03:02 - Source: CNNMoney

Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

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Issac Bailey: Donald Trump has fashioned himself as some kind of blue-collar billionaire, ready to fight for the common man

But he has pushed for a tax policy whose primary benefits would go directly to wealthy men such as himself, Bailey says

CNN  — 

To fully appreciate the scandal revealed by Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns, legal as it was, you need to know the story of a woman named Lucille Scott.

In 2002, Scott bought a used double-wide trailer in Socastee, South Carolina. Her $50,000 loan came with a 17.25 percent interest rate – nearly triple the average rate for a traditional home at the time, akin to buying a house with a credit card.

Issac Bailey

That price tag did not include the cost of the land, which she had to lease, but did include leaks in the ceilings and the walls and floor and a host of other things that needed repair the moment she put the key in the front doorknob. Scott had good credit and a job and wanted a house. But she knew next to nothing about real estate, so when a man came to her church passionately talking about how God told him to help people get into a home, she listened, believing her prayers had been answered.

Scott lost that used trailer within months of purchase because she couldn’t afford the $734 mortgage payment – which didn’t include the $200 monthly land lease – with her $8 an hour housekeeping job and still be able to take care of a 77-year-old mother slowed by strokes.

Scott’s good credit rating, something she had prided herself on having established by finding ways to always pay her bills, disintegrated and made her life nearly impossible to manage for years. Her ability to buy a home in the future was essentially nullified.

The man who preyed upon her had preyed upon many others. He would get paid the moment he convinced someone to sign for a manufactured housing loan, no matter their circumstances or ability to repay – until South Carolina shut down his business after I began writing about it.

Compare that to what happened to Trump. According to The New York Times, the self-professed billionaire reported a nearly $1 billion in losses on his 1995 tax returns – this during an economic boom, mind you. Instead of sinking him, this move allowed Trump to legally pay no federal income taxes for 18 consecutive years. This is in addition to Trump’s six times in bankruptcy court, which allowed him to dump billions of dollars of obligations onto other people, paving the way for him to make more money.

Scott, a low-wage housekeeper, was born poor, made a real estate mistake during a period that even manufactured housing executives were being fooled by a market overheated by relaxed lending standards and a glut of repossessed homes. And she was ruined. Trump, born into enormous wealth, made one mistake after another – stiffing everyday small businessmen, helping to sink the USFL, mismanaging his businesses so much that he needed bankruptcy court multiple times. And he, instead, grew richer because of the system he bragged during the primaries that he had helped shape by influencing politicians with donations.

That would be bad enough. But it’s worse, because Trump has fashioned himself as some kind of blue-collar billionaire ready to fight for the common man while pushing for a tax policy whose primary benefits would go directly to wealthy men such as himself. Hypocrisy is too kind a word.

The reality is that Trump is the embodiment of why inequality has remained such a pressing matter for the past few decades. There’s no shame in being born into wealth, but there should be shame when your life’s goal seems to be only enriching yourself further, no matter how your actions affect those who are less fortunate.

Had Trump used his fame and fortune to make it harder for people like Scott to be exploited, had he any history of helping drug-ravished rural neighborhoods full of the blue-collar workers flocking to his rallies, had he in any way showed that he cared about the already-vulnerable as much as gold-plated toilets, his sophomoric campaigning style could be excused.

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    But he’s done none of that. The Washington Post has found little evidence to back up claims that Trump has donated tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to charity while instead uncovering evidence that he used his foundation to help pay off business debts. It also found that he allegedly provided the attorney general in Florida with a donation around the time she decided not to go forward with an investigation of the dubious Trump University, which seemingly preyed on other everyday Americans. (Trump denied there was any connection between the donation and the investigation, saying, “I never even spoke to her about it at all. She’s a fine person. Never spoke to her about it. Never.”)

    Hillary Clinton has pledged to continue Obama-era policies that have helped reduce inequality as much as any president in half a century. No one who’s serious about making the country more equal can seriously be considering supporting Trump.