In “Trump, Taxes and Citizenship” Bobo tells us that citizens enrich society and themselves when they pull their fair share. He’s still upset that those people over there landed him with Trump. And “gemli” from Boston has a few words on the subject. Mr. Cohen takes a grim look at “The Trump Possibility” and says it’s the last chance to prevent a lazy and limited man who lies and cheats and thinks he has “great genes” from demeaning the Oval Office. Here’s Bobo:
You can be a taxpayer or you can be a citizen. If you’re a taxpayer your role in the country is defined by your economic and legal status. Your primary identity is individual. You’re perfectly within your rights to do everything you legally can to look after your self-interest.
Within this logic, it’s perfectly fine for Donald Trump to have potentially paid no income taxes, even over a long period of time. As Trump and his allies have said, he would have broken no law. He would have taken advantage of the deductions just the way the rest of us take advantage of the mortgage deduction or any other; it’s just that he had more deductions to draw upon.
As Trump and his advisers have argued, it is normal practice in our society to pay as little in taxes as possible. There are vast industries to help people do this. There is no wrong here.
The problem with the taxpayer mentality is that you end up serving your individual interest short term but soiling the nest you need to be happy in over the long term.
A healthy nation isn’t just an atomized mass of individual economic and legal units. A nation is a web of giving and getting. You give to your job, and your employer gives to you. You give to your neighborhood, and your neighborhood gives to you. You give to your government, and your government gives to you.
If you orient everything around individual self-interest, you end up ripping the web of giving and receiving. Neighbors can’t trust neighbors. Individuals can’t trust their institutions, and they certainly can’t trust their government. Everything that is not explicitly prohibited is permissible. Everybody winds up suspicious and defensive and competitive. You wind up alone at 3 a.m. miserably tweeting out at your enemies.
And this is exactly the atomized mentality that is corroding America. Years ago, David Foster Wallace put it gently: “It may sound reactionary, I know. But we can all feel it. We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries — we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie.”
The older citizenship mentality is a different mentality. It starts with the warm glow of love of country. It continues with a sense of sweet gratitude that the founders of the country, for all their flaws, were able to craft a structure of government that is suppler and more lasting than anything we seem to be able to craft today.
The citizen enjoys a sweet reverence for all the gifts that have been handed down over time, and a generous piety about country that is the opposite of arrogance.
Out of this sweet parfait of emotions comes a sense of a common beauty that transcends individual beauty. There’s a sense of how a lovely society is supposed to be. This means that the economic desire to save money on taxes competes with a larger desire to be part of a lovely world.
In a lovely society we all pull our fair share. Some things the government does are uncontroversial goods: protecting us from enemies, preserving the health and dignity of the old and infirm. These things have to be paid for, and in the societies we admire, everybody helps.
In a lovely society everybody practices a kind of social hygiene. There are some things that are legal but distasteful and corrupt. In a lovely society people shun these corrupt and corrupting things. The tax code is a breeding ground for corruption, so they don’t take advantage. The lottery system immiserates the poor so they don’t contribute to its acceptability by playing.
In a lovely society everyone feels privilege, but the rich feel a special privilege. They know that they have already been given more than they deserve, and that it is actually not going to hurt all that much to try to be worthy of what they’ve received.
Citizens aren’t just sacrificing out of the nobility of their heart. They serve the common good for their own enrichment, too. If they practice politics they can learn prudence; if they serve in the military they can learn courage. Public citizenship is the path to personal growth.
You can say that a billionaire paying no taxes is fine and legal. But you have to adopt an overall mentality that shuts down a piece of your heart, and most of your moral sentiments.
That mentality is entirely divorced from the mentality of commonality and citizenship. That mentality has side effects. They may lead toward riches, but they lead away from happiness.
If only Bobo had big enough cojones to come out and say that he won’t vote for Trump… Now here’s what “gemli” had to say:
“The thing that douses my warm glow isn’t the fact that Trump paid no taxes. It’s that people like Trump are the ones who get to write the tax rules in their favor.
David Brooks is always talking about the country as if the little guy is in control. He acts as though we get together and decide to be patriotic this week, or more religious, or nobler or less responsible. We don’t. We react to forces that are pretty much out of our control.
The tax code is nearly 75,000 pages long, and I can assure you that all of those rules aren’t there for my benefit. I deduct a mortgage payment and a charitable contribution or two. I rarely have to worry about what happens if I lose a billion dollars.
It’s no accident that there are more millionaires in Congress today than there have ever been. They’re not there for the puny salary, or even for the generous health benefits. They’re there to write the rules that have allowed income inequality to soar into the stratosphere.
But frankly, I don’t care if Trump paid taxes. I care that a lying, emotionally immature idiot is within shouting distance of the presidency. I care that government has been rendered so dysfunctional by Republican greed that Trump could seem like a viable option. I care that so many of us think that Trump is all we deserve.
If Trump would just go away, I’d be happy if he never paid another nickle in taxes as long as he lived.”
And now here’s Mr. Cohen:
Donald Trump is a thug. He’s a thug who talks gibberish, and lies, and cheats, and has issues, to put it mildly, with women. He’s lazy and limited and he has an attention span of a nanosecond. He’s a “gene believer” who thinks he has “great genes” and considers the German blood, of which he is proud, “great stuff.” Mexicans and Muslims, by contrast, don’t make the cut.
He’s managed to bring penis size and menstrual cycles and the eating habits of a former Miss Universe into the debate for the highest office in the land. He’s mocked and mimicked the handicapped and the pneumonia-induced malaise of Hillary Clinton. His intellectual interests would not fill a safe-deposit box at Trump Tower. There’s more ingenuity to his hairstyle than any of his rambling pronouncements. His political hero is Vladimir Putin, who has perfected what John le Carré once called the “classic, timeless, all-Russian, bare-faced whopping lie.”
This is a man who likes to strut and gloat. He’s such a great businessman he declared a loss of $916 million on his 1995 tax return, a loss so huge the tax software program used by his accountant choked at the amount, which had to be added manually. His cohorts, including the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, reckon this makes Trump a “genius” because he could offset the loss against many millions of dollars of income for years afterward and perhaps pay not a dime in taxes. All of which did a lot of good for the United States of America and all the working stiffs who did not know that losing about a billion dollars is a financial masterstroke.
And this man, with the support of tens of millions of Americans, is a hairbreadth from the Oval Office.
I am shocked — yes, shocked! — Trump’s burbling about the Iran nuclear deal in the first presidential debate has received little attention. He called it “the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated,” before suggesting “Iran has power over North Korea” and should use it, before saying Iran had been given $400 million and then $1.7 billion and then $150 billion, as well as saying, “this is one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history!”
Of course, Trump has no idea what is in the agreement, since that would require reading it, and so he would not have an inkling that it has slashed and ring-fenced Iran’s nuclear capacity until 2030, reversing the Islamic Republic’s steady accumulation of centrifuges, and has also opened the way for Boeing to sell Iran 80 commercial passenger aircraft — just the sort of job-creating deal Trump professes to like.
And this man, whose meanness and petulance and childlike inadequacies have been on display for more than a year now, may become president next month.
How is this possible? It is possible because spectacle and politics have merged and people no longer know fact from fiction or care about the distinction. It is possible because fear has entered people’s lives and that fear is easily manipulated. It is possible because technology has created anxiety-multipliers such as have never been known before. It is possible because America is a country living with the dim dissatisfaction of two wars without victory and the untold trillions spent on them. It is possible because a very large number of people want to give the finger to the elites who brought the crash of 2008 and rigged the global system and granted themselves impunity. It is possible because of growing inequality and existential dread, especially among the white losers from globalization who know minorities will be the majority in the United States by midcentury. It is possible because both major parties have abandoned the working class. It is possible because a lot of Americans feel the incumbent in the White House has undersold the United States, diminished its distinctive and exceptional nature, talked down its power, and so diluted its greatness and abdicated its responsibility for the well-being of the free world. It is possible because the identity politics embraced by urban, cosmopolitan liberals have provoked an inevitable backlash among those who think white lives matter, too. It is possible because Trump speaks to the basest but also some of the most ineradicable traits of human beings — their capacity for mob anger, their racist resentments, their cruelty, their lust, their search for scapegoats, their insecurities — and promises a miraculous makeover. It is possible because the Clinton family has been in the White House and cozy with the rich and close to the summit of a discredited political establishment for a quarter-century now and, to people who want change or bridle at dynastic privilege, that makes Hillary Clinton an unattractive candidate. It is possible because history demonstrates there is no limit to human folly or the dimensions of the disasters humanity can bring on itself.
Yes, it is possible. There is still time to stop a man who keeps stooping lower. That time is now.