For someone who incessantly boasts about his business genius, Donald Trump sure sounded like he was treading into unfamiliar territory Monday during a speech in which he outlined his economic policy. As Trump haltingly read from a teleprompter before a Detroit Economic Club audience, it became clear that most of the bullet points had been crafted by someone else — someone charged with making the Republican presidential candidate’s suspect proposals come across as feasible.
Equally evident was Trump's disconnect from the so-called working class voters he vowed to lift out of their financial malaise by reducing taxes and creating "millions of new and really good-paying jobs." Several of his primitively sketched ideas, while ostensibly aimed at boosting the fortunes of middle-income taxpayers, actually illustrated a fundamental ignorance of their everyday realities.
In calling for a reduction in the number of federal tax brackets from seven to three, Trump aligned himself with a previously floated Republican plan to create three income-tax tiers — at 12, 15, and 33 percent. "For many American workers, their tax rate will be zero," he said without elaborating. Or without mentioning that the highest income earners, who now pay a top rate of 39.6 percent, stand to benefit most. That would widen, not narrow, the nation's income gap.
Another promise Trump made Monday — that “no family will have to pay the death tax” — also does not apply to most taxpayers. Estate taxes are assessed only on those who leave behind assets of $5,450,000 or more — about 1 in 500 of the approximately 2.5 million people who die annually fall into that category, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Given the cost of housing, long-stagnant wages, exorbitant college tuition, and shrinking retirement savings, many Americans’ already modest estates are crumbling. Others get by on a weekly basis, with little in equity or cash as a safety net. The concept of having an “estate” is nearly unfathomable.
Following his daughter Ivanka's lead at the Republican National Convention, Trump told the crowd in Detroit that he would allow parents to "fully deduct the average cost of child care spending from their taxes." What that means precisely is — like most Trump proclamations — unclear. The Internal Revenue Service already allows taxpayers to write off a significant portion of child care expenses. Besides, many people who struggle to pay for child care so both parents can work don't earn enough to itemize their deductions. And if those who can afford to send their kids to high-end child care centers also were able to fully deduct those bills, wouldn't this become yet another break that primarily favors the affluent? Trump has probably never contemplated such questions. Paying for child care was never an issue in his household.
It may be too much to ask someone who has long enjoyed a penthouse view of the world to truly identify with the working class. But can't he at least come down to the ground floor once in awhile?