Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout
Regardless of who one plans to vote for in the November presidential election, it was the general consensus in punditry and instant-polling land that Hillary Clinton made Donald Trump look like a coarse, weary muskrat last night. Particularly in the second half of the debate.
Indeed, CNN sponsored a post-debate snap poll that found Clinton the decisive "winner":
Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.
Voters who watched said Clinton expressed her views more clearly than Trump and had a better understanding of the issues by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Clinton also was seen as having done a better job addressing concerns voters might have about her potential presidency by a 57% to 35% margin, and as the stronger leader by a 56% to 39% margin.
The consensus of the post-debate Democratic and Republican pundits on MSNBC was that, ironically, Trump lost his stamina after the first third to first half of the debate, even as he bizarrely accused Hillary Clinton of not having the stamina for the job and not "looking" like a president. (Of all the defensive babble that Trump fell back on during the second half of the debate, none appeared more feeble, as The Washington Post pointed out, than his sneering accusation that Clinton did not have the endurance to be president -- while the split screen showed her standing poised and calm, as he wandered into verbal cul-de-sacs.)
However, this is not a commentary about who "won or lost" the debate, whatever one's thoughts may be about the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. Rather, it has to do with a moment in the debate that did not receive widespread coverage: the seeming concesison by Donald Trump that he may not have paid any federal taxes for years. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, Trump is the only major party presidential candidate in decades not to release his recent income taxes. Trump is using the excuse that he can't share them with the public because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but Lester Holt, the moderator last night, pointed out that the IRS allows people under audit to release their income taxes if they want to.
Clinton pressed Trump on not releasing his taxes and pointed out that a few years back when he was applying for casino licenses he had to produce two years of tax forms to be approved for operating the casinos. Clinton pointed out that both tax forms, for two different years, showed that he had paid zero taxes.
NBC News did have a short article reporting on the candidates' exchange regarding the unreleased Trump tax returns:
The Democratic candidate seized on the controversial issue and offered a series of possible explanations for why the billionaire won't follow presidential-election precedent and release the returns.
"Maybe he's not as rich as he says he is," Clinton offered up. "Maybe he's not as charitable as he claims to be."
She told the audience that it also could be because Trump isn't paying anything in federal taxes, noting that tax returns Trump was forced to disclose decades ago showed he had paid no federal income tax for some years.
"That makes me smart," Trump cut in.
Clinton later went on to say "maybe ... you haven't paid any federal income tax for a lot of years," and Trump appeared to cast further aspersions on paying taxes.
"It would be squandered ... believe me," he said.
First of all, if most US citizens were as irresponsible as Trump -- and got away with lauding themselves as "smart" for not paying taxes to fund all the services provided by government, including the subsidies received by Trump for many of his business ventures -- this nation would be in bankruptcy. Is Trump being "smart," or is he betraying his obligations as a citizen of the nation he claims he wants to make "great again"?
Slate goes a bit further and speculates that Trump sounded like he admitted that he has not paid taxes for more than just the two years revealed in his casino applications:
"Our country has tremendous problems," the Republican candidate said. "We're a debtor nation, we're a serious debtor nation, and we have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals. And we don't have the money, because it's been squandered on so many of your ideas."
Hillary Clinton interrupted: "And maybe because you haven't paid any federal income tax for a lot of years. And the other thing I think would be important …"
It’s what came next that’s extraordinary. Trump said:
"It would be squandered too, believe me."
Would be squandered. Had Trump just admitted he doesn’t pay a penny in taxes? It sure sounded that way.
Trump's phrasing should have been picked up by many more news outlets. He also proudly implied that not paying taxes was more proof that he was a savvy businessman.
Of all the surreal and ghastly moments of Trump's campaign, his implied admission about his unreleased tax returns -- along with the two tax returns that showed a zero tax payment -- this is one of the most significant betrayals of the people he claims to be championing. It's basically the billionaire version of pickpocketing Americans to build his empire.
Meanwhile, if everybody in the US paid zero taxes, the nation might turn into one big sinkhole. But that would be okay for Trump -- he'd just move to one of his properties overseas. He probably has a good portion -- if not most of -- his personal funds banked offshore, anyway.
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