Welcome to “Why Is My Dad Mad?”, MTV’s occasional inquiry into issues that may come up on your Facebook feed or over dinner.
My dad is yelling at the TV again. What’s going on now?
What channel is he watching?
Well, he was bawling during that old West Wing episode with the smoking in the National Cathedral … but now he’s just watching MSNBC.
And what exactly is he yelling?
I think I heard something about H&R Block and why we can’t have a Home Alone 2 extra in the White House?
Ah. He’s upset about Donald Trump’s tax returns.
That seems like a weird thing to be yelling about.
Well, the problem is that he won’t release them to the public. He’s the first presidential candidate to refuse to do this since Gerald Ford in 1976.
Trump has listed many reasons, none of which would actually prevent him from releasing anything. The main reason, he says, is that he’s being audited — something that didn’t prevent President Nixon from releasing his tax returns during Watergate. Trump has also said voters don’t care about his tax returns. Sixty-two percent of Republicans said they wanted to see them.
Since there is no good reason for Trump to keep the returns secret, everyone just assumes that there must be something in there he wants to hide. Donald Trump Jr. told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that his father’s returns hadn’t been released “because he’s got a 12,000-page tax return that would create … financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would distract from [Trump’s] main message.”
Uh, does Trump even have a main message?
Yes. It is that everyone’s lives suck and death surrounds us and only he can make all the problems go away with deals [insert long tangent about polls] but he can’t tell us his plans because they are so great that everyone would steal his ideas if he told us, so he’ll just surprise us.
He talks all the time about how he’s so good at business. Wouldn’t his tax returns just be a useful way to prove that?
Unless it’s all an illusion! Until we see the returns, we’ll just have to use this video about Trump Steaks as proof of his business acumen.
This is starting to sound familiar. Haven’t we talked about tax returns a lot before this?
Yeah, it’s becoming a campaign tradition. Mitt Romney didn’t release his 2011 tax return until September 2012, which left plenty of time for people to speculate about what they might say — including Donald Trump. A New York magazine article on Romney at the time also offers a succinct explanation for why people want to see Trump’s returns: “While his career-long refusal to release his tax returns was damaging in itself, it resonated even more so as a proxy for all the other secrets he has kept and still keeps.”
Here is what Trump said about presidential candidates and tax returns almost exactly four years ago:
That seems … hypocritical.
Mmhmm. Trump’s reading of the situation has changed somewhat since then. He now thinks that maybe it isn’t the best idea to release your highly anticipated tax returns only a month or so before the election. “I will say this,” Trump said in February. “Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed and Harry Reid baited him and Mitt Romney didn’t file until a month and a half before the election and it cost him big league.”
Romney himself now has a different perspective on this issue too. He wrote a Facebook post in May that said, “There is only one logical explanation for Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his returns: there is a bombshell in them. Given Mr. Trump’s equanimity with other flaws in his history, we can only assume it’s a bombshell of unusual size.”
What’s in there? From the times I’ve had to do taxes, I can’t say there’s much interesting information in them.
Your taxes are a bit less complex than Trump’s. Also, I don’t know much about you, but I’m assuming you don’t have a reputation for exaggerating information about your wealth. If the public had access to Trump’s tax returns, they’d be able to find out how much money he actually has — he says he’s worth $10 billion, Forbes says he’s worth $4.5 billion, others think he might not even be a billionaire. Trump said during a deposition in 2007 — for a libel suit he filed after a reporter said he was only worth a few hundred million — that his “net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feeling.”
His feelings? What the hell does that mean?
In The Art of the Deal, Trump (or his ghostwriter) says that “truthful hyperbole” is “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” “Truthful hyperbole” is basically a synonym for Trump’s feelings. These truth-plated lies take facts and obscure them in the way that most benefits Trump. The only important thing to take from those “feelings” is that Trump’s stated net worth changes about as often as his political positions. Which is why people would like to see what his tax returns say.
My dad has also been doing Google image searches for six-foot portraits of Donald Trump — does that have anything to do with the tax returns?
It’s a long story, but yes. The tax returns would also show how much Trump has given to charity, which, as the Washington Post has shown over the past few months, is very complicated. Reporter David Fahrenthold has been trying to fact-check Trump’s assertion that he has given tens of millions of dollars to charity. He has found proof of just one donation that Trump personally made. His reporting has also shown that the Trump Foundation relies mostly on other people’s money. That money has been used to make donations in Trump's name, to buy huge paintings of Trump at charity auctions, and to buy a football helmet signed by Tim Tebow.
Trump also used at least $258,000 from the foundation to deal with his own legal problems, like the time he got in trouble with Florida for using a flagpole that was too tall. (Trump’s lawyers complained that anything smaller “would fail to appropriately express the magnitude of Donald J. Trump’s ... patriotism.”)
It’s much easier to investigate these issues if you have access to Trump’s tax returns.
So, if Trump released his tax returns, it might be like a reality-TV version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, except when we find the painting in the end, it’s six feet tall and has a picture of Donald Trump trapped under a mountain of Monopoly money?
That’s one way to put it.
Do we know anything about Trump and his money?
You could basically rename the search for Trump’s tax return “Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets,” given all the questions it could answer. For example, does Trump even pay any taxes? (He has had years where he hasn’t had to pay a cent, and he bragged in May that he works “very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”) Real estate is infamous for offering massive tax breaks and loopholes for those who know where to find them. Does Trump have financial ties abroad? His campaign says no, but you can’t fact-check that without — you guessed it! — a tax return. Back in 2008, Trump Jr. said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Does he use tax shelters, despite arguing that we should get rid of them entirely? We don’t know!
Hillary Clinton’s tax returns have led to a bunch of stories about her and Bill’s financial history — reporters have been forced to find other ways of writing about Trump’s.
So … is my dad ever going to stop being mad about this?
Probably not. It’s like Trump is in the middle of a staring contest with everyone who wants him to release his tax returns, and no one will notice that he swapped in an unblinking Madame Tussaud’s sculpture of himself until after the election is over. And although voters say they want to see the returns, it’s not their biggest Trump-related concern.
Is there any other way that the tax returns could get out? Isn’t everything getting hacked nowadays?
Someone at the IRS could theoretically leak them, but that would be a felony — and the agency tracks every single person who accesses this kind of information. WikiLeaks has joked about accessing Trump’s returns. Dean Baquet, editor of the New York Times, said that if he received Trump’s tax returns, he would publish them — even if it meant jail time. Others have suggested that reporters should either only ask Trump about the tax returns, or stop talking to him unless he releases them. So yes, there are ways that the tax returns could go public — but there are also only 47 days until the election.
Can you help me make my dad get over this?
Is he already pre-writing letters to the editor to send out in case Trump becomes president?
He is writing things and muttering, so ... yes?
We’re only here to tell you why your dad’s mad, not solve it. Sorry.