The events and issues of the past couple of weeks have been swirling around in my head like Toto, Dorothy and the debris picked up in that famous Kansas cyclone.
Here are some thoughts from that vortex:
HOW DO YOU COMPARE?
People were buzzing Sunday night over news reports dealing with federal income taxes, how much some people pay (or don’t pay) and how people are using special provisions in tax laws to reduce their obligations to zero or close to zero.
In the wake of the New York Times disclosures, the questions being asked should go beyond President Donald Trump’s taxes. Yes, his situation needs to be discussed. But the questions ought to focus on how the government can bring more equity and fairness to our tax system.
Consider the person who works as a clerk at a small retail business. Think about the family living from one paycheck to the next, working multiple jobs but having no savings.
Think about the widow getting by on Social Security and modest savings. Or the young couple struggling to figure out how to save for college for their kids while the couple juggles their own student loan payments, mortgage and a car loan.
What does it say about our nation’s tax laws when middle-class folks work their tails off and pay more in federal income taxes than the billionaire president of the United States?
What does it say about our system of deductions and write-offs when the uber-wealthy are able to use these laws, assisted by the accountants and tax lawyers they hire, to wipe away tax obligations on millions of dollars in income?
The middle-class folks from sea to shining sea who do the working and the buying that keeps this nation going, are they truly just a bunch of suckers because they pay more in taxes than our nation’s top leader? Or is this a sign our tax system is broken and needs major repairs?
The Times disclosed that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes for 2016, the year he was elected president. He paid another $750 in federal taxes in 2017. But he paid no federal income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years, the Times said.
Trump’s income tax obligations largely evaporated because his businesses paid out more money in expenses than they brought in in revenue. Another factor, the Times said, was Trump deducting what many of us would consider to be personal expenses — such as the cost of maintaining his residences, or getting his hair cut.
Setting the president’s taxes aside, Congress should tee up a comprehensive look at our federal tax system next year. No, that’s not a code word for passing a tax increase. But Congress does need to re-examine the numerous deductions, write-offs and favorable tax treatment that owners of hedge funds and some other wealthy people use, or abuse, to avoid taxes.
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left many people in despair over the loss of this equal rights giant and inspiration for generations of women — and in despair over the direction the court is headed.
The late Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon himself, suffered brutal attacks and many setbacks and defeats during his long career. He had some thoughts several years ago that might comfort Ginsburg fans.
“You have to be hopeful. You have to be optimistic,” he said. “You get knocked down, but you have to get right up. Don’t get lost in a sea of despair.”
THE COURT, PART 2
The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is moving forward this week. But I hope Senate Democrats don’t demonize her or her qualifications for sitting on the Supreme Court.
Argue that the winner of the Nov. 3 election is the person who should make the nomination to replace Ginsburg. Remind Senate Republicans that Barrett is receiving what Judge Merrick Garland never received — a hearing and then an up-or-down vote.
But let’s not spend weeks with Senate Democrats grilling her relentlessly and Senate Republicans tossing softball questions to her. America and the American people don’t need a confirmation spectacle that, in the end, will change nothing.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Those of you who regularly read these columns may remember a recent one that told you about Tybre Faw, the 12-year-old Tennessee boy who read John Lewis’ favorite poem at the congressman’s funeral.
Tybre is a student of the civil rights movement, and the congressman was his hero. Thanks to the boy’s grandmothers, he met Lewis two years ago in Selma, Alabama, at a commemoration of the famous “Bloody Sunday” march that Lewis led. He and the congressman stayed in touch.
News accounts of their friendship touched the heart of a member of the R&B vocal group Boyz II Men. Nathan Morris wanted to ensure that this serious-minded young man would someday be able to go to college. So, he established a GoFundMe account for Tybre and invited others who were inspired by Tybre’s and Lewis’ improbable friendship to donate.
This week, there is $96,850 in the fund — all because people are inherently good and prefer to help rather than hate.