It’s not breaking news that Donald Trump is, in so many ways, like no president this country has had. But a two-year New York Times investigation revealed last week that he likely is something else: A tax cheat.
In damning detail, the Times reported how Trump received hundreds of millions of dollars from his father, Fred Trump, much of it through tax dodges and schemes in the 1990s. The investigation laid waste to Trump’s claim that he parlayed a meager $1 million loan from his father into the fortune he has. More importantly, the report showed that the President of the United States in all likelihood defrauded the government he now leads.
When faced with this damning investigation, did Donald Trump fight back with ferocity, as any normal public official might do? No. He called the report “boring.”
America apparently agrees. The response to the NYT investigation has been muted, and that might be the most alarming news of all.
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At least some of the country’s collective shrug can be explained away by timing — the Times’ report came in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh fight that consumed the nation. It’s also far from a surprise that the president’s tale of self-made success is mostly fiction, and America long ago got a glimpse of Trump’s business ethics through reports that detailed his Trump University scam.
But the NYT investigation revealed something far more damning — a man and his family whose tax dodges included creating a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents. If true, that’s fraud. It’s also a felony.
The Republican response has been sadly predictable — and perhaps worse. Few people expected that GOP leaders would enrage their base and call for a congressional investigation of the NYT’s findings. But the Times’ report wasn’t even met with usual Republican murmurings of the story being “troubling if true.”
Yes, this country has hit similar thresholds before with Trump admitting to grabbing women by the crotch, and with Trump’s racist or profane utterings, and with Trump breaking presidential norms in countless other ways. It’s also true that no president is perfect, and some were far from it. But if potential tax fraud can be met with this type of indifference, we wonder what it means not only for the GOP, but for all of us. How acceptable has it become to avert our glance to what once was unacceptable, so long as a president is bringing his party the right Supreme Court justice or legislative win? Is this just a Donald Trump phenomenon, or is it something greater? We’re already seeing signs that Democrats are ready to fight lower expectations with lower expectations.
We’ve long known that this is a president like no other, and although he has brought out the worst in his country, we’ve hoped he was a fever that eventually would break. But the most troubling symptom of America’s condition might be apathy, and it’s one from which we might never recover.