Welcome to the MAGA bizarro world where Trump’s tax returns prove he’s actually a genius

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  • President Donald Trump’s tax returns show that he’s a terrible businessman, loaded with debt, who pays essentially no taxes.
  • To his hardcore supporters, the tax returns were never going to matter.
  • If the returns proved he was a billionaire, he would win. That they proved he “beats the system” means his critics lose.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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We finally got to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and, like everything else in this political era, they were always going to be viewed in wildly different concepts of reality.

For Trump’s most fervent supporters, two responses were already locked in and ready to go.

If the returns show he’s actually a billionaire, then he’s a brilliant businessman and all the naysayers need to eat their words.

If the returns show massive losses, debt, and a tax bill lower than the just about every middle-class taxpayer in America — as they did — that just shows you what an adept player of “the system” Trump is. Eat it, haters.

The tax returns don’t matter, because nothing matters to Trumpists

The documents obtained by The New York Times showed that the president, who claimed in 2015 to have a net worth in excess of $US10 billion, paid $US750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

If you’re a US taxpayer reading this, there’s a good chance you contributed a lot more to the federal coffers.

The populist right-wing base that keeps Trump’s approval among Republicans from dropping below 80% ought to be up in arms that a politically connected corporate-welfare leech has for so long gotten a free ride thanks to creative (if likely legal) accounting practices.

But that would presume that hardcore Trump supporters are more beholden to an actual economic ideal than their Dear Leader.

All that matters, all that will ever matter to the MAGA faithful, is “owning the libs.”

If Trump’s tax returns were even to hint that he’s a successful (or even modestly competent) businessman, then gone in an instant would be all the snarking that he’s just a reality-TV-created cipher who’d still be hawking reheated pizzas if Mark Burnett hadn’t created “The Apprentice.”

But when the tax returns showed that Trump was mostly good at one thing — losing money — his supporters pivoted to the “beat the system” explanation. To the MAGAlomaniacs, his legal avoidance of taxes is proof of his “very stable genius.”

To be sure, there’s nothing at all unethical about taking every eligible tax deduction. But that’s not how Trump talks about entities contributing their share to a collective effort.

Trump has threatened to blow up NATO and abandon South Korea because the US allies were not “paying their share.” To the base, that Trump paid essentially no taxes in 10 of the 15 years before 2018 is not hypocrisy. It’s not even an outrageous example of rich coastal elites building paper empires on the backs of the working class. It’s “awesome,” as the conservative podcaster Jesse Kelly put it.

The YouTuber Robby Starbuck mocked anyone surprised that rich people would hire experts to “lessen their tax bill and use as much $ to reinvest in their business as they’re legally able to.”

And in an epic case of whataboutism, the Turning Point USA honcho Charlie Kirk tweeted that “only a dishonest media would care more about Trump allegedly paying $US750 in taxes than Hunter Biden taking in $US350 Million from the Russians.”

It doesn’t matter how many of Trump’s own professed principles he defies. For Trumpists, nothing will ever matter.