On Monday night, President Joe Biden did something relatively unremarkable: he released his 2020 tax returns, showing that he and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, had made just over $607,000 in the last year and owed federal taxes of $157,000.
The announcement passed without much fanfare. Which should remind us – for the 1,000th time – just how abnormal the presidency of Donald Trump actually was.
See, Trump was the first major party nominee – and first president – not to release ANY of his tax returns while running for or while in office. And he did so as the wealthiest man – with the most expansive portfolio of public-facing assets – to hold the office in the modern era.
The reasons Trump (and team) offered for not releasing his taxes varied widely – from that the 2016 election results showed voters didn’t care about his taxes to that he was involved in a years-long audit by the IRS to his taxes being too complicated for any, uh, normal person to understand.
The real reason that Trump refused (and refuses) to release his taxes is because they revealed him having paid almost zero actual taxes to the federal government for 10 of the previous 15 years and showed that he had (and has) massive debts coming due that he has personally guaranteed. We also know that Trump benefited from a $72.9 million refund from the IRS that the organization has been examining since 2011.
“In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.”
Trump’s tax returns exposed the real reason he began running for president way back in 2016: He needed a new act. The revenue from the success of his “Apprentice” reality franchise was waning – and the vast majority of his golf courses and hotel properties were losing money. He needed a way to become relevant again – and seeking the White House was the quickest way to make that happen.
Trump’s refusal to release his returns also avoided a look into whether he had any conflicts of interest, which he repeatedly denied but, absent an honest look into his finances, was an open and legitimate question during his presidency.
That we spent four years largely in the dark about, well, all of this was stunning at the time. It’s even more remarkable in retrospect given what we know about Trump’s precarious financial situation.
Biden’s ho-hum release of his own 2020 taxes – he released his 2019 returns in late September 2020 – should serve as a reminder to all of us about just how aberrant Trump’s refusal to release any documentation about his financial situation really was. And how abnormal his presidency, more generally, was when compared to the ways in which the men who held the office before – and after – him have chosen to conduct themselves.