Trump, Taxes, and Character

Donald Trump’s reported tax evasion is a wonderful example of different approaches to ethics.

How do we reflect upon his paying tax? Many will approach this topic as a search for the truth. Did Trump actually pay ‘millions’ of taxes, as he claims? Is the story as told by the New York Times ‘fake news’? Or is the story true? Did Trump, despite making millions, only pay $750 in tax in 2016? Did he claim $70 000 for hairstyling as a tax deduction?

This approach to ethics focuses on the facts; on the particular action. Has Trump told a lie? That is to say – when Trump says he paid millions in taxes, is he making a statement that does not align with the facts?

In order to answer this question, we need to see Trump’s tax returns. The President (like his predecessors) will not publically release them. Some ethicists then focus on actions. Was this action (or decision) wrong?

Other ethicists focus on consequences. If Trump is avoiding taxes, are the American public missing out on revenue? If the super-rich can avoid paying their fair share, how does this impact the poor?

Still, other ethicists take a third approach. They do not focus on whether this particular action was immoral, or on the consequences of this particular action. Instead, they focus on character. What type of person is Trump?

Trump has had his successes as a President. Pre-Covid the economy grew, and unemployment in the US was at a 50 year low. But for me, his failings are clear when viewed through the lens of character (or virtue) ethics. Trump is neither honest nor generous. You cannot trust him.

What type of character traits are you known for? How do you embody or reflect godly virtues?

David Rietveld

Senior Minister

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