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It Must Be Nice to Be Rich

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 15, 2018

We seem to keep running into the idea that if you’re rich, you can get away with a lot of bad behavior.

As an individual rather than as our president, Donald Trump’s persistent falsehoods and denial of sexual allegations, financial, tax and ethical misdoings with a surfeit of personal insult has made clear that he “could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and get away with it.

We’re seeing this theme ring true in seeing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman insistthat he and his had nothing to do with the apparent death of writer and critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. However the political ripples of the death work out, President Trump has made clear that we need to maintain Saudi plans to purchase U.S. weaponry above all other humanitarian concerns. Trump says he respects that the Saudis are rich, and holds them in warm regard; presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner claims the crown prince as a close personal friend.

We’re seeing it in Trump Cabinet members spurn criticism that they are pursuing policies that further enrich themselves or friends rather than serve their intended purpose So as Ben Carson of Housing and Urban Development eliminates policies to keep rents low for public housing, or Education’s Betsy DeVos drops protections for student loan fraud, or the Environmental Protection Agency enables corporations to pollute further by eliminating regulation, the winners are always the same — wealthy businesses and their owners.

And this week, we learned through examination of a sheave of documents to The New York Times that Jared Kushner has most likely paid no federal income taxesfor years. A review of confidential documents showed that despite anet worth that has quintupled to almost $324 million, over a decade the Kushner family appears to have paid almost no federal taxes.

Details aside, the report centered on the use — legally permitted — of property depreciation over years to create massive paper losses each year to more than cover personal income tax responsibilities. The losses did not mean that the family actually lost money — the reason for the law — and the value of real estate holdings actually increased over the time period.

A spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer said that Kushner “paid all taxes due.” (Really, a spokesman for the spokesman?)

According to The Times, the documents, which were reviewed by 13 tax accounts for the news organization, were created with Kushner’s cooperation as part of a review of his finances by an institution that was considering lending him money. More than 40 pages describe his business dealings, earnings, expenses and borrowing from 2009 to 2016, with information from federal tax filings. The Times said the documents were shared by a person who has had financial dealings with Kushner and his family.

Now, the idea that the rich can pull off financial arrangements that the rest of us cannot is nothing new. Nor is it new that Jared Kushner, who presents himself and his wife, Ivanka, as good guys even within the Trump administration.

But the idea that Jared Kushner underpays federal taxes — and therefore no state income tax, a percentage of federal tax, or city tax, seems vaguely, um, unpatriotic, though clearly in line with the Trump mainstay principle: Make Money at others’ expense.

“Kushner Companies — where Mr. Kushner was chief executive and remains an owner — has been profitable and has thrown off millions of dollars in cash annually for Mr. Kushner and his father, Charles, according to an analysis by the company that was included in the documents reviewed by The Times. But as far as the Internal Revenue Service is concerned, the Kushners have been losing money for years.”

Kushner himself seems to avoid most public policy-making about taxes, but I can’t help but note that my family is paying yet more tax this year as a result of the Trump tax cuts. Again, this is not a surprise.

But there is something here that is both pretty fundamental about people who put themselves in the power center of government. Whether they choose the role or not, they are leaders of our cultural and moral traditions as well as architects of temporary policy shifts.

While the Trump administration has little actual principle to follow other than “winning” at others’ expense and pushing “America First,” the evident principle after two years in office is what is good for Donald is good for the country. The dominant message across environmental, consumer protection, financial regulation policy areas is pretty simple: Attention and governmental help will go to corporations, to the nation’s wealthy and to those who see money-making as the nation’s top concern.

Count me among those who think this country stands for something other than Making America’s Rich More Rich.


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