The great white whale of Trump-era journalism was finally harpooned and boated on Sunday night — Tax returns, ho! — and the resulting product is a thunderclap of venality and greed astride a form of grasping self-interest unseen in the White House since the epic corruption of Warren Harding.
In 2018, The New York Times published an exhaustive report on the myriad ways the Trump family, going back to patriarch Fred Trump, used a variety of tax dodges to hide the family fortune. This latest Times report lays out what Donald Trump has done with that fortune, up to and including the years he has been in office.
“The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public,” reads the Times report. “His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.”
No, it is not a pretty picture. It is, in fact, pathetic nearly to the point of unrestrained hilarity. The bragging “billionaire” blowhard president of the United States is more than a billion dollars in debt, and about half of that is coming due in the next few years.
Journalist Dan Alexander, on the Trump beat for Forbes and author of White House, Inc.: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency into a Business, sat down on Sunday night and crunched some numbers based upon the Times reporting. If Alexander and the Times have it right — which they very likely do, given how articles of this magnitude endure weeks of factual and legal scrutiny before seeing daylight — Trump is only a few short years away from being subsumed by a tidal wave of red ink that will wash him out of most of his properties and leave him stranded on the beach like some strange orange whale.
According to Alexander’s tally, Trump is $100 million in debt for Trump Tower, with the loan coming due in less than two years. He owes $139 million for his 40 Wall Street property, debt coming due in 2025. His stake in the 1290 Ave. of the Americas property has him $285 million in the hole, and comes due in 2022. His stake in the 555 California St. property is $163 million, and comes due this time next year. This list goes on and on, ultimately coming out to approximately $1.1 billion in debt.
There is currently a great deal of “We knew that already!” commentary being inspired by this inspired piece of Times journalism. To no small degree, this is true: Donald Trump and his entire family are, among other things, perhaps the most obvious pack of grifters to come down the road since the original snake-oil salesmen plied their blighted wares on the dusty byways of a fledgling nation. It does not take an electron microscope and the sensory perception of a canyon bat to pick up on this.
That being said, now we have the receipts, and they portray Trump as being much more than merely greedy. He hasn’t turned the White House into his personal ATM machine because he loves money like any good capitalist does. He’s doing it to stave off looming financial disaster; he’s looting the Treasury not simply because he can, but because he absolutely has to if he wants to avoid getting pauperized by his own horrid business instincts. He’s using gobs of our cash to plug the gaping holes in his sinking ship.
This makes him pathetic and infuriating, yes, but it also makes him dangerous. As we stampede toward an election that Trump appears more and more willing to steal or disrupt in order to stay in office, we have with this Times piece a more acute understanding of his motivations.
If Trump loses this election, he loses his access to the spigot of federal money he’s using to hose down his inferno of debt, and his personal financial Armageddon is only a few scant years away.
If that happens, Trump would have no money to pay the kind of lawyers he will need to keep a roof over his head. His humiliation before the world would be complete and absolute, and that, right there, is the fate he has manifestly dreaded for the term of his life.
That is what Trump is fighting to avoid on November 3. Not so much for the money or the freedom, but to avoid the disgrace. A man with such a towering yet fragile ego, in possession of awesome political powers, now faces a final confrontation with what appears to be his greatest fear: shame.
Trump’s efforts to attack the veracity of this news won’t wave the debt collectors away. Understanding this, you will understand why so many are flatly terrified at what he might do in 36 days, and beyond, to dodge the awful reckoning he has fled from for so long.