It’s odd to be exactly one year older than the Ed Sullivan Show. That premiered on CBS on Sunday, June 20, 1948, and that was every Sunday night in America until Sunday, June 6, 1971 – and then it was gone. But it was an institution. Everyone watched, every week, to know what was what. The first show had Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis cutting up, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein previewing the score to their new show “South Pacific” that would open on Broadway the next year, and then each Sunday night, week after week, year after year, it was jugglers and comics and classical musicians and the latest hot thing – Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Beatles. That’s how America knew what the latest hot thing was. To appear on the Sullivan show was to be approved by America. Sullivan said Elvis was a fine young man, and he was. Sullivan said the Beatles were good kids, and they were. It was like being blessed, which was one of the conceits that musical Bye-Bye Birdie – the number Ed Sullivan: Hymn for a Sunday Evening is a hoot.
That’s a joke no one gets anymore. The culture fractured – there would never be another single arbiter of popular taste and importance in America. That nation had become too angry about everything. CBS gave up and ran the CBS Sunday Night Movie and then other shows in that time slot, but on September 24, 1968, CBS launched 60 Minutes – a one-hour “in depth” news show, Tuesdays at ten at night. It took off. CBS soon dropped 60 Minutes into their Sunday evening schedule. They ran it an hour earlier than the Sullivan slot, and it’s still running now, and the premise is still the same. Everyone watches, every week, to know what’s what. Only the jugglers and comics are missing.
That’s not entirely true. From 1978 to 2011, 60 Minutes usually ended with a commentary by the old but lovable Andy Rooney, being wryly puzzled by the modern world. He wondered about a lot about everyday things. “Would a real man get caught eating a Twinkie?” That was often amusing and a bit of comic relief, but that was about it – 60 Minutes isn’t a variety show.
They don’t book jugglers and comics, but last night they booked Donald Trump, and he was amusing:
The 48th season of 60 Minutes premiered Sunday night with Donald Trump sitting down for a contentious interview with the CBS program’s managing editor Scott Pelley. The usually poised, unflappable Trump was frequently caught off-guard as Pelley questioned the Republican presidential frontrunner on the plausibility of many of his big campaign promises, from fixing the economy and saving Social Security to establishing a better universal healthcare and building his “great wall” across the Mexican border.
Trump had to be kidding, right? Well, not exactly:
The interviewer got Trump to admit that both Republicans and Democrats disliked him, and then questioned how Trump could unify the parties in order to pass any of his big schemes into law. Trump doubled back and said, “I’ve gotten along with politicians my whole life. I’ve made a fortune on politicians,” to which Pelley quipped, “You’re not going to be able to buy them anymore.”
Okay, maybe it was comedy. It did sound like comedy:
The big reveal of Trump’s 60 Minutes interview was his radical tax plan that would include “a substantial reduction for the middle-income people” and a zero rate for people “in the low-income brackets that are supposed to be paying taxes, [but] many of them don’t anyway.” Pelley reminded Trump there’s a $19 trillion federal deficit, but Trump promised he’s going to “grow the economy so much” by “bringing our jobs back” from overseas. As for Trump’s tax raise on the upper levels of the upper class, Pelley reminded him that the Republican Party’s mantra is to not raise taxes.
Trump had to be kidding, right? He wasn’t, and there was this:
When Trump was asked how he plans to stop U.S. businesses from building factories in Mexico, the mogul said he’d heavily tax products coming into America from Mexico, a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “We will either renegotiate it or we will break it. Because, you know, every agreement has an end,” Trump said of NAFTA. “Every agreement has to be fair. Every agreement has a defraud clause. We’re being defrauded by all these countries.” Pelley then informed Trump that free trade “is a plank of the Republican Party.”
Oops. And there was this:
On Trump’s plan to expel the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, he promised his government would be “rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way.” Trump then suggested America sit back and let the war in Syria continue between the Assad regime and ISIS, at which point, when both sides were adequately “decimated,” the U.S. could swoop in and “pick up the remnants.” Or, “Maybe let Russia do it,” Trump said.
Does Mel Brooks write Trump’s material? His government would be rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way? Is that a line from Springtime for Hitler or something?
That led to this:
To conclude the interview, Pelley asked Trump about how earnest he is about running for president, and whether the real estate mogul views the presidential race as another reality television show where Trump is the star. “I love my business. I didn’t want to do this,” Trump said. “I just see our country as going to hell. And I felt I had to do it.”
Okay, he says he’s serious, which is what all comics say – “Seriously, folks…” – but assume he really is serious. What about this tax plan? Josh Barro at the New York Times looks into that:
When talking about taxes in this campaign, Donald Trump has often sounded like a different kind of Republican. He says he will take on “the hedge fund guys” and their carried interest loophole. He thinks it is “outrageous” how little tax some multimillionaires pay. But his plan calls for major tax cuts not just for the middle class but also for the richest Americans – even the hedge fund managers. And despite his campaign’s assurances that the plan is “fiscally responsible,” it would grow budget deficits by trillions of dollars over a decade.
You could call Mr. Trump’s plan a higher-energy version of the tax plan Jeb Bush announced earlier this month: similar in structure, but with lower rates and wider tax brackets, meaning individual taxpayers would pay even less than under Mr. Bush, and the government would lose even more tax revenue.
The actual plan is here and Barrow sees this:
Currently, the top income tax rate for regular income is 39.6 percent. Mr. Trump would cut that rate to 25 percent, the lowest level since 1931. He’d cut maximum rates on capital gains and dividends to 20 percent from 23.8 percent. He’d cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, and also offer a special tax rate of 15 percent to business owners – less than half what they may pay under today’s rules. He’d abolish the estate tax entirely.
Mr. Trump says he’d pay for those tax rate reductions by “reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.” But in truth, rich people already pay tax on most of their income, so there’s less revenue available from cutting rich people’s tax breaks than Mr. Trump and many voters believe.
In 2013, taxpayers earning between $500,000 and $10 million deducted or exempted an average of 12 percent of their income from tax; for those earning more than $10 million, the figure was 16 percent. If those deductions were abolished entirely (and Mr. Trump proposes only to reduce them), that would not come close to paying for a cut in the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, which is a relative reduction of 37 percent.
There are many more details, but this is bullshit, or a joke. The numbers don’t work, but it’s amusing, and Jonathan Chait notes this:
Donald Trump has spent weeks talking like a populist, promising to make the rich pay their fair share and attacking his opponents as puppets of the party’s wealthy donor base. Some of us concluded Trump was running to the left of the Establishment on taxes. Now Trump has released his “plan” to “reform” taxes, and it’s clear this conclusion was totally wrong.
Trump’s proposal is extremely similar to all the other Republican plans. He would cut the top tax rate to 25 percent, even lower than the 28 percent rate proposed by Jeb Bush. While Trump would not eliminate taxes on investment income, as Marco Rubio proposes, he likewise plans to eliminate the estate tax, which currently applies only to inheritances over $10 million. Trump says he will pay for all this by eliminating “loopholes,” but fails to identify these loopholes. Even if he cleaned out every deduction in the tax code, there is not enough revenue to make up for the enormous tax cuts he would supply to the rich.
There’s no need to be surprised by that:
Who’d have guessed – the rich Republican who inherited an enormous real-estate empire from his father wants to cut taxes for rich people in general and wealthy heirs in particular! Trump seems to have reached the same conclusion as all of his opponents: Actually running on a populist tax plan in a Republican primary has the benefit of appealing to a popular position, but the cost of making Republican power brokers apoplectic, whereas merely pretending to have a populist plan has most of the same benefits and none of the costs.
It was a joke, and the Washington Post’s David Weigel points out just who was in on the joke:
Donald Trump’s apparent ability to get conservatives on board with tax hikes was among the biggest shocks of his summer surge. The billionaire unashamedly told crowds – bigger crowds than any Republican rival could muster – that “the hedge fund guys” needed to pay higher taxes, and that the rich could afford to pay more generally. The pro-Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise literally flew a banner over one of those rallies, in Alabama, warning about tax hikes. Trump kept on talking taxes, and didn’t suffer at all.
Yet today, upon the release of his tax reform white paper, the Republican front-runner won over the GOP’s unofficial pope of tax cuts. “Trump’s plan is certainly consistent with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in a statement. “Trump has said he opposes net tax hikes and has made clear that the real problem is spending. This plan is a reform, not a tax hike.”
Club for Growth Action, which has been fending off a Trump lawsuit threat over its attacks on his old tax ideas, was less generous than Norquist – but came to the same conclusion. “Donald Trump has a long history of calling for the largest tax increase in U.S. history, of calling for higher corporate taxes to pay for government-run health care, of loudly advocating for sky-high tariffs that will act as a 25 percent – 35 percent sales tax on every family budget, and of using Obama-like rhetoric to claim that higher taxes should be imposed on those he deems worthy of such punishment,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “In just the past 24 hours Trump said he still supports universal health care. So, his tax plan begs the question: Does this mean you were completely wrong about all your liberal policies on taxes, trade, health care, bailouts, and eminent domain?”
Club for Growth Action, the lobbying arm of the Club for Growth, simply wants to know if Trump was kidding before. Was that the joke? Given this plan, that’s what they now assume, but it’s hard to tell:
Trump, not one to ever admit an error, addressed none of this in his press conference today. But it’s true: the plan contained few real traces of the populism that he’s dabbled in since 1999. That year, Trump favored a one-time surtax of 14.25 percent on people worth more than $10 million. “The plan would cost me $700 million personally in the short term,” Trump wrote, “but it would be worth it.” If Trump’s back-of-the-classy-monogrammed-handkerchief math was correct, the surtax would have wiped at the debt.
Come 2015, this tax gimmick only survived as a way for the Club, Jeb Bush, and other mainline conservatives to accuse Trump of favoring “the largest tax increase in American history.” Unsurprisingly, it did not make it into the plan.
And this is curious:
What did were tax changes described (but not validated) as “revenue neutral,” which flatted out some rates in a way that actually made them easier on the very rich. Exhibit A: Cutting the tax on small business, or “pass-through,” income from 39.6 percent to 15 percent.
“By lowering the rate of pass-through income to 15 percent he’s creating a massive new loophole,” said Jared Bernstein, who served as chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. “Every single person in the top bracket would have a huge incentive to incorporate somehow.”
The tax code is complex. This is devious, and clever:
The hard details of tax plans do not, typically, sink in with the electorate. Broad strokes do. Trump had been making a tribal argument to conservative voters. It was not that they were getting taxed unfairly; the people responsible for sending their jobs overseas were getting showered with benefits. By reducing taxes for even more lower-income people, Trump breaks from the conservative line that people who don’t pay net taxes are “takers.” But that’s as populist as he gets.
Don’t worry. He’s got that covered:
The real estate billionaire turned presidential candidate said of his tax proposal, “it will be simple. It will be easy; It will be fair,” during the announcement at his lavish Fifth Avenue skyscraper.
As a result of the zero percent tax bracket, as many as 75 million Americans will be free of income tax liability. In 2010, about 41% of Americans were free of income tax liability, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Those who will not have to fork over income will simply file a form that says, “I win,” according to Trump:
“If you are single and earn less than $25,000, or married and jointly earn less than $50,000, you will not owe any income tax. That removes nearly 75 million households – over 50% – from the income tax rolls. They get a new one page form to send the IRS saying, ‘I win!'” …
Others win ten thousand times more than you win, but yes, you win! You’ll love it!
That’s cool, but Michael Tomasky says we’re all being played for suckers:
So now Donald Trump’s gone and done something serious. Bummer!
But actually, don’t sweat it, because if you look a little more closely and the tax plan he unveiled Monday, you’ll see it isn’t very serious at all: one more piece of evidence that to Republicans, when it comes to tax cuts, deficits truly don’t matter. He’d reduce the top marginal rate to 25 percent on dollars earned above $300,000 (for a married filer); it’s now 39.6 percent on dollars earned above $450,000. And he’d dramatically increase the number of people who pay no tax at all (but I thought Republicans were angry at these people and wanted them to pay more!).
That was the forty-seven percent Mitt Romney talked about, but Trump made folks forget all that. It’s just that nothing really changed:
The nonpartisan tax experts haven’t run the numbers yet, but they will soon, assuming there’s even enough detail in the proposal for them to try, and I expect that when they do, we’ll see what we always see with GOP tax proposals – it won’t add up, because they never do. And when confronted with these numbers, Trump, like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush and a parade of Republican candidates before him, will say these geeky little experts don’t know what they’re talking about because he’ll unleash the growth that’s been suffocated for the last eight years and the federal coffers won’t even be able to hold all the revenue that will roll in and life will be a dream.
That’s what they say. It never works. They keep saying that anyway. There’s odd stuff going on here:
Trump wants to eliminate the carried interest provision that gives the hedge-fund guys a much lower tax rate than the rest of us. Right now, they often earn many millions every year and supposedly pay a rate of around 24 percent. Jeb Bush is for doing this too. So that’s two major GOP candidates (we still calling Bush major?) who are for a tax increase. And not just any old tax increase. One that would soak the rich! Isn’t this awesome?
Actually, no. Well wait. Yeah, I mean, ever since Warren Buffet put it so starkly a few years ago by saying how ridiculous it is that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, sure, fixing this has been a matter of basic decency. The loophole is an absurd scam. It would be great to close it on principle.
But the problem is that it would make almost no difference to the United States Treasury. According to the Tax Foundation, closing the loophole for hedge-fund managers and private-equity partners, the two groups who take advantage of it now, would bring in a paltry $1.3 billion a year in revenue. By comparison, the estate tax that Trump and Bush both promise to eliminate brings in around $24 billion a year.
This is a flim-flam:
Because the carried-interest loophole gets a lot of press, and because nobody likes hedge-fund guys to begin with, lots of even pretty well-informed people think that closing this loophole constitutes the wielding of a mighty sword of economic justice. It is that in principle, but in practice it’s nothing – comparative pennies in the grand scheme of things. So Republicans like Trump and Bush can go around saying “Hey, look at me, I wanna tax the rich guys!”, and the media will buy it, while in fact they’re doing the opposite.
This is why Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the leading conservative cop on the tax-increase beat, is just fine with all this. He gets the perception. …
Democrats are partly to blame for how poorly all this is understood. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and (almost) all of them thunder about the Buffett Rule and the nasty hedge-funders because they’re an easy mark. But they don’t do a very good job of going on to explain that eliminating the loophole doesn’t amount to much. Well, I say it’s time to start explaining.
Tomasky wants an explanation. Comics don’t explain. That ruins the joke, and CBS hasn’t changed its Sunday evening programming since 1948 – they still book jugglers and comics. Everyone watches, every week.