It took till Monday for me to catch up with the Sunday New York Times story about how Jared Kushner raked in huge sums of money from his family real estate business while apparently paying no income taxes, a story which lands right in the usual Trump-scandal sliver of the news Venn diagram, like so:
Nothing could be less surprising than to learn that, in 2015, Jared Kushner took home “$1.7 million in salary and investment gains” and paid approximately zero dollars in income tax on it. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating to read, if you’re a person who did pay income tax in 2015, on much less than $1.7 million.
By writing about it, the Times is pointing toward the bleakest truths under the surface of the Trump era. The paper’s immense investigation earlier this month into the origins of Donald Trump’s fortune confirmed, as if it needed confirmation, that the president is a plain crook. Somehow, the Times expressed this fact more cleanly as boilerplate in the Jared Kushner story than it ever managed to do in the giant Trump piece itself:
A Times investigation published this month found that Mr. Trump participated in outright fraud that shielded his family’s fortune from estate and gift taxes.
Yet the Kushner story is different. The Times notes:
Nothing in the documents suggests Mr. Kushner or his company broke the law. A spokesman for Mr. Kushner’s lawyer said that Mr. Kushner “paid all taxes due.”
Jared Kushner, that is, has been ripping off the general public merely because he is in the real estate industry, and the real estate industry is a giant, legalized ripoff. The law says that he is allowed to claim imaginary depreciation of his properties, even as their value goes up, and even if he purchased them with borrowed funds, rather than his own money. “Mr. Kushner is getting tax-reducing losses for spending someone else’s money, which is permitted under the tax code,” the Times explains.
This is the way the system works. After the Times explained how the Trump family used fraud to launder money from one generation to the next without paying taxes on it, a Wall Street Journal op-ed reassured that paper’s readership that the underlying impulse was normal and sound:
Mr. Trump and his sire are nothing new under the sun. Nobody in their right mind from the compulsive accumulator class pays the punitive federal estate tax.
Because it was in the Journal, the message was an inversion of the old Michael Kinsley formulation, about how the real scandal is what’s legal: since the laws are already built to let rich people dodge taxes, why get upset about a rich person breaking the law to dodge even more taxes?
This is what rich people do. It’s who they are. The Times, in describing how the Trump family got its properties appraised for half or a quarter of what they were really worth, wrote that they had
used Robert Von Ancken, a favorite of New York City’s big real estate families. Over a 45-year career, Mr. Von Ancken has appraised many of the city’s landmarks, including Rockefeller Center, the World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.
Evading 50 to 75 percent of their proper tax bill was not the illegal part of what the Trumps did. It was a normal service provided to a big New York real estate family, by someone who has done it for 45 years.
This is the world that produced the president and produced Jared Kushner. Money comes in, and no taxes go back out. Causes and effects have nothing to do with each other. Why shouldn’t Kushner believe he can bring peace to the Middle East, in his spare time? Has anyone ever told him there’s anything he can’t do?