“It’s not been easy for me. I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan, and I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest. But I came into Manhattan and I started buying properties, and I did great.”
Then-candidate Donald Trump told his “rags to riches” story in a New Hampshire town hall in 2016. His “small loan of a million dollars” line was often repeated on the campaign trail and during his Presidency. In October of last year, the New York Times put a dent in Trump’s story, revealing that in fact, Fred Trump had funneled approximately $413 million to his son over the years in a massive tax avoidance scheme and that the President was a millionaire by the age of eight. Reporting from the Times today demolishes the rags to riches story as a fairytale. Between 1985 and 1994, the decade in which Donald Trump published the Art of the Deal and made statements like “there is no one my age who has accomplished more”, he reported losses to the IRS of $1.7 billion. More than almost every other American taxpayer.
The question is, what does this mean politically, if anything?
To a political base fully committed to the President, it will not move the needle. Supporters of the President will say this is “baked in”.
But research from the University of Maryland published earlier this year reveals that once voters have the facts about the President’s gilded upbringing, both Republicans and Democrats score him lower on empathy and business competence. Of particular interest is that the drop in scores is more pronounced among Republicans sampled. When informed of the President’s biography, Republicans’ perception of the President’s empathy dropped by ten points. Their perception of his business competence dropped by nine.
Considering that business competence was the sole credential in his bid for the Presidency, it is likely that the raft of Democratic presidential candidates will use the new information to educate the electorate on the Trump reality versus the Trump myth.
And the rhetorical case to make to voters will be this: Who among you can manipulate your income so that you don’t pay federal income taxes for decades?
The revelations about the President’s true wealth, and how he obtained it, may also play into his promises to have a transparent administration, to clean up Washington, DC, and to create a level playing field for the “forgotten” men and women.
Despite an ethics pledge to voters, the administration has continued the revolving door between government and industry, a feature of all prior administrations, including the Obama administration.
Pro Publica reports that at least eighteen former Trump administration officials are registered lobbyists, including former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Fifteen more work in jobs that closely resemble lobbying.
As for transparency, the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks government transparency, suggested that this administration’s first one hundred days was the least transparent since tracking began.
And just this week, the White House has claimed executive privilege over the redacted portions of the Mueller report. Aside from it being entirely unclear how executive privilege – designed to protect advice given to the president extends to information contained in an investigative report – this is not the position of an administration committed to openness.
It’s clear that Democrats are going to force a reckoning in 2020 on the President’s financial history and the ethics of his administration: Is the President draining the swamp, or is he part of it?