Evading Taxes: The Twisted American Dream


Even though it was revealed that Donald Trump did not pay taxes for several years, many voters still support him. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Matthew Michaels

Even though it was revealed that Donald Trump did not pay taxes for several years, many voters still support him. (Courtesy of Flickr)
Even though it was revealed that Donald Trump did not pay taxes for several years, many voters still support him. (Courtesy of Flickr)

“That makes me smart.”

This was Donald Trump’s response to Hillary Clinton’s accusation during the first presidential debate that he did not pay federal taxes for many years. By not paying taxes, the Republican nominee failed to perform one of the most basic civic duties.

Instead of a public upheaval, Trump’s comment earned him support from the live debate audience and citizens nationwide. People like Trump exemplify a twisted American dream, where you can contribute nothing in taxes but take full advantage of public resources created with others’ taxes.

Trump and his supporters have this maligned view that they are going to “Make America Great Again,” like in the 1950s when the nation was prosperous and marginalized groups were discriminated against in the boundaries of social acceptability. Trump fails to mention that, according to Bloomberg, the highest individual tax rate during that era was 92 percent, compared to the sub-40 percent level it has stood for the past few decades.

All earned income does not belong to the individual in America. Contributing members of society do not just work hard, they pay taxes to fund common goods, including the public schools attended by 90 percent of grade-school children as per the U.S. Department of Education. 86 percent of Americans drive to work using public roads, according to the 2015 census while public transportation accounts for 5.2 percent of all transportation. Retirees benefit from publicly funded Medicare and Social Security. Money accumulated from taxes goes to funding necessary advancements in science, medicine and technology that make our lives easier and better.

Perhaps most importantly, without taxes we could not protect America from enemies, both domestic and foreign. There would be no way to fund a military, police force, fire department or diplomats.

Trump most likely pays for a whole team of accountants to do his taxes, and I would not be surprised if one person’s main occupation is to make sure Trump pays as little as possible. Wealthier citizens like Trump can often move assets into special accounts and hire the brightest accountants to find special loopholes to avoid paying their share of taxes, not to mention the fact that corporations and big donors like Trump use financial leverage to help write the tax code.

There is a lot of outrage about companies outsourcing jobs overseas, but there is not a similar reaction about companies that use tax havens and store their wealth outside the United States to avoid being taxed. Even more egregious is how many corporations who already pay almost nothing in taxes receive subsidies that come out of the federal budget supplied by taxpayers’ money.

We must see taxes not as an unwarranted burden, but as a responsible investment in ourselves and our community. I do not need to dust off some Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau to show that taxes, though annoying, are a responsibility of all members of society.

As Vanessa Williamson of the New York Times notes, twice as many Americans believe the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, than the three percent who do not think paying a fair share of tax is a civic duty.

Trump’s comments also remind us how far out of tune he is with the average American. Since almost everyone pays taxes, he also indirectly inferred that the rest of us are stupid for not taking advantage of tax loopholes, when he can only do so because of his wealth and his accountants that so few can afford.

The idea of a billionaire not paying taxes is not about intelligence, but rather unethical selfishness. Taxes would be much less burdensome on the common man if wealthy individuals and large corporations paid a share.

Matthew Michaels, GSB ’17, is a marketing major from Hightstown, New Jersey.