President Donald Trump promised Thursday to donate $1 million of his own money to Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas and Louisiana. It’s supposedly one of the largest charitable donations a sitting president has ever made.
But is it actually indicative of true selflessness?
Probably not. The president undercuts his own charitable legitimacy in a number of ways:
1. The pledge is light on details that matter
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Thursday the president has not decided where this money would go, even asking reporters for suggestions.
Shouldn’t the president have data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at his disposal that could pinpoint the areas most in need of aid?
Earlier that day, Vice President Mike Pence was in Houston, and he was not alone. Other cabinet members, such as former Texas governor and current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, as well as Greg Abbott, the state’s current governor, aided recovery efforts.
But how much did the president himself help?
Criticisms of the administration aside, it was refreshing to see the vice president provide physical labor to bolster recovery efforts. It is far more honest and helpful than a vague pledge lobbed from a distance.
2. When it comes to charity, Trump doesn’t always follow through
A Forbes article shows the Donald Trump Foundation gave away nearly $11 million dollars from 2001 to 2014.
However, the enormity of the contribution conceals important details.
For example, the article shows, by way of IRS documentation, that only $3 million was from Trump himself. A few million dollars is virtually chump change for the president, but even that isn’t telling the whole story. An investigation by the Washington Post couldn’t confirm any more than $10,000 in Trump donations over the last seven years.
With Trump unwilling to release his tax returns, something nearly every modern president has done, it’s difficult to find reliable numbers on how much he actually donates. David Fahrenthold, a reporter for the Washington Post, received a Pulitzer Prize trying to figure it out. Fahrenthold found the president often didn’t follow through on philanthropic promises until after the criticism became public.
If Trump were truly as generous as he claims, he could clear everything up with a simple release of his federal tax returns. Why doesn’t he? Maybe he’s just a particularly private person. Maybe he doesn’t donate as much as he claims. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s hiding something even worse.
Regardless, when and if Trump actually follows through with his latest pledge, he can fashion it into a political win for his base. The news media will seem antagonistic for ever questioning the president’s veracity, despite it being their job to serve as a watchdog on the rich and powerful.
3. Trump often has ulterior motives
Charity has an upside, and Trump often aims to help those less fortunate when he receives a direct benefit in return.
Regarding the Harvey relief, it’s something his supporters can use as ammunition against his critics, as previously mentioned. Trump can use this relatively small donation to continue the faux narrative of being a charitable man who tithes his wealth and uses his privilege for good. He cares about the little guy and wants to see him succeed, unlike the current swamp creatures in Washington.
Trump’s planned tax reform is another case of the same disease. The president spoke to a crowd of sycophants, i.e., the small-business owners of Springfield, Missouri, at an invite-only campaign rally on Wednesday. Trump says he wants to “bring back Main Street U.S.A.” and cut corporate taxes by 20 percent. If employers pay fewer taxes, they can funnel larger amounts into creating new jobs and rewarding faithful employees.
Supply-side economics is a standard tenant of modern American conservatism, brought in vogue with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and perpetuated ever since. Its validity as an economic theory, however, is hotly contested.
Would business owners really voluntarily improve working conditions to a substantial degree when doing so hurts their bottom line? Surely a few, but I’m skeptical. Human nature often leads us to take advantage of others when doing so allows us to gain. To assume otherwise is folly.
This tax reform could be a sneaky ploy to fill the coffers of the Trump family’s own businesses.
Further, when you cut taxes at one end, it must be made up for somewhere else. This can be done by either raising taxes through other means, or by curtailing government spending. In the end, the two often amount to a similar end.
Trump ostensibly wants to increase the country’s internal economic parity, but granting the one-percenters a break will force the rest of us to cover the bill. It’ll make things harder for the vast majority of Americans, especially those on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.
With victims of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation facing enormous economic costs, Trump went ahead and cut 90 percent of the federal funding designated for Affordable Care Act sign-up programs. This is reprehensible. It shows the president is willing to hang millions of Americans out to dry in order to throttle the Democrat-created ACA, undermining its legitimacy to propel further congressional attempts at repeal.
Trump is the great underminer of the Obama legacy, and this is only one example. Such tactics are in his self-interest, since, after all, they manage to satisfy his raving political fanbase.
If Trump truly cared, he’d help in the way that matters: providing federal programs of care for those in need. Instead, he’s choosing to tear them down.