Yes – you read that correct. I find myself this morning defending Donald Trump. The difference between an ideologue and a scholar is that the former never finds anything their political opponents do worthy of praise, and if anything their political allies do deserves criticism, they ignore or defend. I chose to be a scholar, requiring a healthy hermeneutical suspicion as to how my own subjectivity and biases inform those I support and those I criticize. So, here is a test to see if you are uncritically following the “party line,” or if you are able to think for yourself: post on social media a praise (left-handed compliments don’t count) about the opposing political party or candidate and a substantial critique about your own political party or candidate. If you are unable to do this, if your posts are taunts rather than sustain engagements, then you are part of the gridlock partisan problem this nation is currently experiencing.
Back to the topic, though. Today I find myself coming to Trump’s defense. During Thursday’s Republican debate, Trump said he was unable to release his tax returns because he was being audited. “I’ve been audited every year. Twelve years or something like that.” This I believe. Where I will disagree is when Trump elaborated during a CNN interview after the debate that the IRS might be auditing him because he’s a “strong Christian.” See my previous post questioning the salvation of born-again Evangelicals who support Trump.
But again, I am getting off topic. I’m defending Trump, specifically his comment about being audited every year. John Koskinen, the IRS Commissioner, said this past Friday (yesterday) it is highly unlikely a taxpayer would be audited for multiple years in a row. In an interview to be aired tomorrow, he states, “It would be rare for anyone to be audited every year,” If there were no issues following an audit, Koskinen added, “it’s a number of years — two or three at least — before you hear from us again.” So here is why I am defending Trump. Every year, since and including 2009, I have been audited by the IRS. But unlike Trump, I refuse to claim I am a strong Christian. According to the IRS, only 10 percent of those earning more than $1 million were audited in 2015. I assure you, I am not making more than $1 million a year. Working for social justice is not necessarily a financially rewarding venture. By comparison, those earning less than $200,000 (that’s me) were audited less than 1 percent of time. And yet, I have been audited every year since and including 2009. Why? Why as an ethicist am I being scrutinized year after year?
Here is my theory. In 2008, the Border Patrol detained me and several of my students for several hours. We just returned to our desert camp after walking the migrant trails to leave jugs of water and food, only to find Border agents on horseback surrounding us. Harassment of immigrant activists is common. Some of our volunteers had recently been arrested for littering (the argument was that leaving jugs of water on desert trails was littering). After several hours (where we were also accused of drug trafficking because in an isolated area of the several acre-sized camp, a rotting marijuana bale was found), we were finally let go and warned to stop aiding and abetting migrants (to which we politely refused). But before they left, they asked for our passport information in writing.
The next year I was audited for the first time – that is a full audit where everything on my return must be accounted for. My last audit was for 2014 were the IRS discovered that from 2012 to 2014 I owed them about $200 (some of my entertainment expenses were disallowed). I asked why, being that I had receipts, who I ate with, and what we discussed. I’m still awaiting a reply. When I shared my predicament with some of the leaders of the Sanctuary Movement, they simply chuckled and welcomed me to the club.
But I’m really not complaining. Being audited (if indeed it’s connected with the praxis in which I’m engaged) is really a very minor price to pay. It is more of an annoyance, a waste of valuable time. That said, I totally believe that Trump could be audited for twelve years in a row. If true, all he needs to do is produce the IRS letters notifying you that you are being audited and what documents are being requested. Additionally, being audited is not an excuse for not releasing one’s taxes. During my last audit, if my tax forms needed to be made public, they could have been. If any changes needed to be made due to an audit, then an addendum form could be added after the audit is concluded. There is only one reason a politician would not release his audits, or for her not to release her transcripts of excessively paid speaking gigs to Wall Street big-wigs. There is something to hide. Just one word to both Trump and Clinton: Release!
A few years ago, there was a big brouhaha about the IRS targeting conservative groups. This may very well be true, but I would add that it is not just conservative groups. Could the IRS be targeting conservative and liberal groups challenging the status quo? Could it be that Trump and I are targeted not because we are Christians, or conservatives, or liberal, but because we challenge the status quo? Or, reminiscence of Nixon’s enemies list, did we just ticked off the wrong person? Regardless, an explanation as to why a person would receive multiple audits should, at the very least, be offered.
As much as I would love to continue this conversation, I must end our time together. I have to finish my 2015 tax returns today. Can’t help but wonder if seven will be my lucky number for an audit.