Part of Donald Trump’s appeal as a candidate is that he has never served in public office. That also means that he doesn’t have a political record to stand on.
But he does have a business record. How consistent are Trump’s business practices with his stated political positions?
Having written quite a bit on the question of hypocrisy (see, for example, my New York Times bestseller Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy), I can say that there are often yawning gaps between what Trump criticizes other for and what he himself does.
The New York Times reports that Trump, who has been brutally critical of companies that import foreign workers to take the job of American workers via foreign visa programs, has done that very thing at his Largo resort.
But there are numerous other examples where Trump’s attacks on other corporations could be directed at his own.
Take, for example, Trump’s consistently held criticism on U.S. corporations who outsource their manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China. This has been a major part of his economic pitch. As Economics Professor Mark J. Perry at the University of Michigan-Flint (full disclosure: a friend) has pointed out, Trump did that very thing with his own clothing brand. If it’s bad that other companies do this, isn’t it bad that Trump does it too?
The same goes for Trump’s criticism on major corporations such as Ford for setting up factories in places like Mexico.
Trump has major commercial operations around the world and could be criticized for the same thing. As Economics Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University says, “Trump is either inexcusably hypocritical or inexcusably ignorant of economics. There is zero economic difference between, say, a U.S. car company’s investments abroad in factories and Mr. Trump’s own investments abroad in hotels: both are meant to improve the bottom line of companies headquartered in the U.S. by taking advantage of profitable economic opportunities outside of the U.S.”
Trump has also been vocal on the issue of taxes, arguing that the wealthy in the U.S. should pay more while also criticizing individuals who use legitimate tax write-offs to minimize their tax burden.
In 2015, for example, he critiqued Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for using the Washington Post as a “tax shelter.” (Because the paper operates at a loss, Bezos gets a tax deduction.) Trump declared that the deduction was a “scam” to lower the tax rate for Amazon. But Trump admits that he does the same thing: he looks to minimize his tax burden. “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible for two reasons,” he admits. “Number one, I’m a businessman. And that’s the way you’re supposed to do it. The other reason is that I hate the way our government spends our taxes. I hate the way they waste our money. Trillions and trillions of dollars of waste and abuse. And I hate it.”
Why is it okay for Trump to “pay as little as possible” but not others? Does Trump use tax shelters to minimize his tax burden? We can’t say for sure. Trump has been unclear when, or if, he plans to release his own tax returns.
Calling a public figure a hypocrite can turn into a cheap game. But when the inconsistencies revolve around a core issue that they claim to be passionate about, it’s a legitimate issue. The Hollywood Starlet who professes her fear of global warming and overconsumption but flies around the world in a massive private jet deserves criticism. So do candidates who attack others for their business practices but end up doing the same thing themselves.