The Election Chronicles, Volume 35: What Have We Learned From The First Debate?

Monday we saw the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

This was a night that both candidates (and their supporters) knew would advance the dialogue and perhaps impact the election. Hillary needed to thread the needle, sounding presidential without sounding bitchy (and yes, this word is sexist) or elitist. Donald needed to sound presidential without looking like a bully or a whiner.

By nearly every measure Hillary succeeded and Donald did not. He continued to lie without apology, asserting that he never supported the Iraqi war even though he did on the Howard Stern show. It’s become a tradition in the last several decades that we learn how much our candidates earned and paid in taxes. Four years ago Mitt Romney attempted to buck this trend but did release his returns after increased pressure and we learned that in 2011 his income was $13.7 million dollars (mostly from capital gains and interest on his investments) and he paid $1.9 million in federal taxes. The fact that he paid only 14.1% troubled many of us, but that’s the law. If you work for a living and live on your paychecks you will pay between 10% (if your income is low) and 39.6% (if your income is above $415,050 and you file as a single person). But if you have enough money to live on your savings your highest tax bill is 20%. In fairness Mitt lowered his tax bill from 20% to 14.1% because of his generosity to charities (including the Mormon church).

Many of us paid a higher rate. In 2015 Nancy and I, filing jointly, were in the 25% bracket and paid 16% due to our charitable donations. I don’t begrudge Mitt his good fortune, but I think that since Nancy and I worked for our income and Mitt sat back and collected wages from work he hasn’t done in years, he should pay more.

Nevertheless, I hold my greatest contempt for Donald. In the debate Hillary suggested that he’s not releasing his income tax returns because he has something to hide. I think she’s right. Maybe he’s not as rich as he says. Or maybe he’s not as generous as he says. But when she suggested that he’s hiding the truth from us because he didn’t pay a dime in federal taxes, he responded by stating: “That makes me smart,” and later, “it would be squandered, too, believe me.”

Does that mean he admits that he didn’t pay federal taxes? It’s hard to know and we’ve learned better than to ask him for clarification. But I believe it’s enough to assume this was a rare moment of honesty on his part. He tried to turn this to his advantage but it backfired.

If he believes that not paying your fair share of taxes is a sign of intelligence, does that make the rest of us who do pay taxes are stupid? If that’s true he needs to pray that the rest of us don’t become as smart as him because government can’t run on nothing. If we all become as smart as Donald there will be no money to support our troops or veterans. You have to figure Isis is salivating over this.

Do you know someone who depends on free school lunches for necessary nutrition? Yeah, they’re going to be hungry.

Do you like being able to take law enforcement on our borders for granted? Give that up. How about the men and women who make sure nobody gets on a plane with a gun? They’re now unemployed. Do you like visiting national parks? They’re gone, or at least the people who make sure have a place enjoy.

How many of you use freeways or highways to go to work or visit loved ones? Didn’t you know they are part of a federal program from the 1950s? Fair enough, you’ve had the luxury of ignoring how they are maintained. Now you need to either slow down for the potholes or get a much stronger suspension system for your car. Or both.

Let’s pray that we are smart enough not to vote for Donald.

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